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Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers

By Kay Xander Mellish

Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear.  We don’t like to talk about the fear part in our various countries of origin, but the fact is true that in the US, UK, China, India, and in parts of Europe, someone who loses their job can be in a lot of trouble. They may have trouble paying their bills, might lose their house, might not have access to health care, might not be able to send their kids to university. That’s not the case in Denmark. Everybody pays for those services through their taxes, so losing your job doesn’t mean you lose access to these things the way it might mean elsewhere in the world. And that means that employees aren’t slightly afraid of their boss the way they might be elsewhere in the world - and they’re much more willing to speak up. They’re not going to do what you say just because you’re the boss. Hierarchy exists in Denmark, despite what the Danes sometimes want to believe, but you don’t always get a lot of respect from being at the top of the hierarchy. In this society where egalitarianism is a deep and cherished value, the person standing on a pedestal is kind of assumed to be a buffoon. You’ve heard of the famous "Janteloven" that informally governs Danish culture – and one of its rules is "don’t think you’re better than us". In a Danish environment, you’re going to have to convince your employees that what you suggest is the right course of action. They’re not just going to do it because you’re the boss.

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