Unfortunately, it’s a fact that expats have a hard time settling in when they relocate to Denmark. This is a huge problem for companies in Denmark, which are often dependent on attracting and maintaining skilled employees from the rest of the world. In our experience a lot of companies could do a lot more to integrate their expats into Denmark successfully. As culture nerds, we have 4 suggestions.
Is Denmark that bad at making expats feel welcome? Unfortunately the answer is yes, according to the 2017 Internations report. In the category “settling in” Denmark ranks an embarrassing 63 out of 65. This category refers to the expat’s experience of the easiness of settling in into the new country: How welcome do you feel in your new country? Are you able to find local friends? Do you understand the new culture? According to the Internations report, a high number of expats in Denmark find it very hard to settle in Denmark, and a lot of Danish companies experience their expats ending their contracts and leaving before time because they – or their spouse – just don’t feel at home in Denmark.
In the above article, DI recommends companies to provide their expats with lessons in Danish language in order to ensure better integration. We believe that it is a step in the right direction, but we still believe more should also be done in order to secure long-term stays.
Based on our work with expats in Denmark, these are our recommendations:
1: Take care of the whole family
Often, expats don’t come alone but with their whole family: spouse and kids. And often, expats end up leaving before the end of a contract because the spouse simply doesn’t feel happy in the new country. Therefore, it is just as important to ensure the settlement of the whole family. This should begin a long time before the family arrives in Denmark – e.g. it would be a good idea to find the right school for the kids, find a network for the spouse, and find out what qualifications and interests the spouse has so that he or she might be able to find work or voluntary work in Denmark. These are all things that take time, but they will ensure a happier expat with a happier family in Denmark, willing to stay longer.
2: Make initiatives that ensure a more “talkative” culture at work
Traditionally Danish work culture is not very talkative. This is probably because Danes generally stay shorter hours at work (because of the Danish work-life balance), and therefore Danes are very efficient in the hours they spend at work. This leaves less time for personal chit-chat, and knowing your colleagues on a more personal level is not a necessity for a good work relation. This very “professional” working culture makes it harder for expats to find friends among their colleagues, and often expats feel lonely at work because Danes have a tendency to speak Danish with their colleagues at lunch breaks, which can feel very excluding towards non-Danish-speakers. Therefore we recommend that Danish companies make initiatives so the expats feel more welcome – this could e.g. be a voluntary programme of monthly dinner parties in private homes with a mix of native Danes and expats. Furthermore, internal mentor or buddy programmes is also a great way to get expats settled better into the company.
3: Do courses on Danish culture and work culture
Understanding the Danish language is one thing. Understanding Danish culture is quite another. In our opinion it is more important to understand the culture, than being able to speak the language, because, let’s face it, most Danes speak fluent English anyway. Compared to the rest of the world Danish culture is quite unique – especially our working culture. E.g. our organizational cultures tend to have very flat hierarchies compared to the organizations in the rest of the world. Navigating and communicating in Danish organizational cultures can be very confusing to a foreigner, so an introduction to Danish culture and work culture should always be a part of the expat’s (and the rest of the family’s) introduction programme.
4: More positive storytelling regarding expats
The contributions of the expat workforce is crucial to a lot of companies – even more so in the coming years. Furthermore, expats also add large amounts of tax money to the Danish Treasury. Expats make Danish society more international, more diverse. This should be celebrated a lot more. Danish companies could do a lot more to tell the stories of the expats, who contribute to Danish society. Internally as well as externally.
So to sum up, Danish companies are currently not doing enough to integrate their expats successfully. But we can’t blame the companies alone. As a society, we as Danes could do a lot more to be more open towards people who are new to this country. All research show that you get smarter from being around people who are culturally different from yourself, so why not invite an expat family, an exchange student, or an immigrant over for dinner – or maybe just for a cup of coffee?
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Gitte & Nicoline, The Culture Nerds