Danish in the workplace: Employers acutely aware of language barriers

Issues related to learning Danish isn’t a conundrum reserved for international employees. It’s something employers are increasingly becoming acutely aware of, according to the Confederation of Danish Industry

Speaking Danish has often been compared to trying to talk with a potato in your mouth. And these days, it’s a potato that is certainly heating up.

With some 300,000 full-time internationals working in Denmark – about 12 percent of all full-time workers in the country – it’s also an aspect that it feels cannot be ignored by the Confederation of Danish Industry, Dansk Industri (DI), which services nearly 20,000 companies stretching across all sectors and sizes.

Danielle Bjerre Lyndgaard, DI’s Director of Global Talent & Mobility, revealed that the issue is currently very relevant among DI members.

“It’s definitely a hot topic, and one that is approached from a magnitude of angles,” Lyndgaard told The Copenhagen Post.

“What we see is that one of the biggest barriers for companies in relation to hiring internationals is language concerns.”

One of the things DI tries to do is advise managers and HR professionals who are responsible for the recruitment of internationals to talk to prospective employees about expectations of learning Danish during the recruitment process. 

They don’t necessarily need to be able to work professionally in Danish, but if they can at least join in social conversation, that goes a long way. 

READ ALSO: Denmark mid-table in InterNations survey that assesses ease of settling

Make them feel welcome
In fact, it could drastically alleviate one of the key obstacles Denmark faces when it comes to attracting and retaining highly-skilled talent from abroad.

According to recent reports from InterNations, Denmark scores highly in relation to work conditions, but scrapes the bottom of the barrel for ease of settling in.

Lyndgaard contends that learning Danish not only helps foreigners forge imperative relations at work, but aids the settling-in process outside of the office – such as joining a sports club or engaging in social activity.

And while settling in can sound a lot like integration, Lyndgaard dismisses that term. To her, it’s more about feeling included.

“I’m not very fond of using the word integration when it comes to international labour. If you come here for two or three years before leaving for a job in Spain or wherever, do you really need to integrate? Or is it more about feeling included?” she questioned.

“So I think it also helps the inclusion process if you yourself as an international try to learn some Danish. We also recommend to companies that they talk about the issue already during the interview process.”

Of course, while many companies are well aware of the advantages of their international workers learning Danish, not all businesses are on an equal footing when it comes to having the resources to ensure that happens.

Start process during recruitment
Lyndgaard maintains that while many of the larger companies and startups work globally, and consequently incorporate English as the company language, the same can’t be said for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), which is by far the largest segment of Danish companies.

Many SMEs do everything in Danish. So from an HR or management perspective, the consideration very much relates to whether or not everything is done in English, from translating processes to meetings and lunchtime interaction.

“What we usually tell companies is that they don’t need to have a language policy or strategy, but they need to have an understanding. And that should be whenever someone is present who doesn’t speak Danish, then everyone should speak English. Out of courtesy,” Lyndgaard says.

“Even though Danes are well known for their English language skills, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we like speaking English or feel comfortable doing so.

READ ALSO: Learning Danish was her key to success

Helping the little guys
Bigger companies often have the ability to offer language courses to their international employees at the company site — something that many SMEs are unable to do … for a variety of reasons.

That’s where Lyndgaard and her highly competent team at DI come into play.

DI provides legal and administrative assistance, as well as tools for pre-boarding, onboarding, recruitment advice and even off-boarding. 

Many SMEs lack the HR muscle or knowledge that would prove helpful to them. DI acts as a beacon to facilitate the companies discovering that knowledge.

“It’s not just in terms of what we can help them with at DI, but what kind of help they can get locally, and there is often ample assistance to be obtained at local municipalities,” Lyndgaard enthuses.

“By helping them be good managers for internationals, the workers will succeed, perform better and stay longer. So essentially, a win-win scenario for everyone involved.”