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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

Freedom under responsibility!

Being the second of four blogposts on the unspoken rules of Danish work culture, this blogpost will enlighten you on the term freedom under responsibility:

  • What constitutes the Danish work-life-balance?

  • What responsibilities are you expected to take upon your shoulders?

  • How may opening up about personal struggles (if these risk standing in the way of professional efficiency and performance) help you in your career?

The first post which can be accessed here enlightens you on flat company structures and implied hierarchies.

Work-life-balance in Denmark

Fundamental to Danish work culture is a progressive and family friendly work-life-balance. Danes pride themselves with being one of the most efficient work forces in Europe and have some of the highest rates of productivity in the world; but for most Danes, there's more to life than just working.

Social wellbeing schemes in Denmark ensure a working model offering 5-6 weeks of annual leave, a 37-hours working week as well as competitive conditions for both paternity and maternity leave. Many employers offer flexible working hours, opportunity to work from home, possibility to attend medical appointments during working hours as well as taking 1-2 days off with full pay when children fall ill - all in support of modern day family life.

For people coming from countries where conditions are less favourable and work tension greater, it can be difficult to have more spare time - what do you do with all that time? Additionally, it might also instigate feelings of guilt to not give all you have to your work place. The Danish system recognises that workers perform better when working under flexible and favourable conditions.

Freedom under responsibility

In a Danish work setting, it’s expected for everyone to take responsibility and be able to work independently; obviously within your ability. This ensures you and your colleagues a great deal of freedom and flexibility in relation to planning and carrying out your workload; needless to say, within deadlines!

Tasks won’t always be delegated, and as your manager rarely looks over your shoulder, it’s important to show initiative in taking on tasks as well as solving them. Part of the flat organisational structure means that it’s expected for you to flag things up and to ask for help and advice from colleagues and your line manager if you are stuck with a particular task and don’t know how to move forward.

The Danish ethos behind the above is that

· it reduced stress amongst employees

· taking ownership and responsibility for work tasks increases motivation and enhances performance.

However, if you haven’t been used to working in this way, it may be a source of stress.

Mental health

Coming into work whilst sick is considered poor manners. And part of taking responsibility at work, and enjoying the freedom which comes with it, is being able to manage your mental health for you to perform consistently at work over a prolonged period of time. This is not equivalent of you needing to be superman or superwoman, but it does mean being aware of any warning signs and issues which may affect your ability to be at your best.

Sometimes, this means sharing with your line manager what may be keeping you from delivering top performances: It might be symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety. It might be that you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an illness and need treatment for it; or have been knocked sideways from dealing with this. It could be that your workload is too much or outside of your area of expertise. Or it might be that you are struggling in your relationship, or that your spouse or family are finding it hard to live in Denmark.

For many, it would seem unthinkable to open up about such personal and vulnerable issues to one’s superior; and there might be some anxiety around being viewed as the weakest link, of being laid off and losing one’s income.

However, in my experience, most managers and leadership teams will welcome an open and frank discussion about how they can best support you during challenging times. Remember, you aren’t the only one dependent on you being able to carry out your work tasks: Your employer depend you on being able to deliver what’s contracted between you; and as such, it’s in their interest to help you overcome any mental health issues that may have risen. Remember, you can speak to your manager/employer in confidence; they will be able to help your with your work load as well as support you in going forward.

If you need professional help managing your mental health or any issues settling in, you are welcome to check out my website where you will find information on individual therapy, couples therapy as well as coaching for individuals, couples and families.

If you have come to Denmark to work in a managerial capacity, it’s important to be aware of the above and not watch over your employees like a hawk. Furthermore, you will need to prepare yourself for your employees possibly approaching you to discuss their personal and professional challenges.

Keep an eye out for a future post on informal communication and humour in Danish workplaces.

If you would like me help with expat life, please reach out on tel 0045 5188 6187 or e-mail

Man sitting on rooftop with laptop


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