Danish culture needs to evolve, report concludes

‘The dark side of hygge: Acculturation of foreign workers in Denmark’ provides new perspectives on problems internationals face in Denmark

Danish culture needs to evolve for global talent to contribute significantly to the Danish economy, a new report concludes.

The report is written by Dr Julia Jones, PhD, a cross-cultural competency trainer, expat coach and owner of the company International Talent, where she helps Danish companies and organisations to relocate, integrate and retain international employees.

Named ‘The dark side of hygge: Acculturation of foreign workers in Denmark’, the report serves as her final project towards completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Southern Denmark.

The report doesn’t involve original research, but instead uses published research on the topic, extracting the results and presenting them in a cohesive narrative.  

Key findings
A key finding is, according to Jones, that “Denmark’s cultural value of equality shapes a socially and culturally homogenous society with a clear division between public and private life.”

She explains that the equality ideal, the homogenous society, and the division between public and private life form a triad of cultural factors that can potentially explain the complex dynamics observed in the interactions between foreigners and Danes. 

“On one hand, Denmark scores low for cultural tightness when focusing on aspects considered private by Danes. However, when considering values and behavioural practices on a broader scale, Denmark’s cultural tightness score is high. I believe this intriguing dichotomy can be attributed to the presence of the strong public-private division,” Jones told The Copenhagen Post.

She adds that in tight cultures, deviations from the norm are often openly sanctioned. 

“However, in Denmark, where openly sanctioning would imply acknowledging inequality, Danes tend to employ subtle methods of sanctioning, such as gentle withdrawal and disconnection,” Jones said.

This has, according to Jones, two significant consequences. 

“Firstly, foreigners may interpret this behaviour as a personal rejection, leading to feelings of frustration, anger or shame. Secondly, the subtle nature of these sanctions makes it challenging for foreigners to infer cultural norms,” she said. 

Several surprises
Working on the report she was surprised by the limited amount of existing scientific literature on the topic.

“The internationalisation of Danish companies represents a profound change process for these organisations. I anticipated a greater emphasis on research in this area. The presence of strong Danish cultural factors, which can impede a successful transition into a globalised workforce, led me to believe that researchers would be actively investigating these dynamics,” Jones said.

The second aspect that Jones found surprising was how all the puzzle pieces fit together so seamlessly to form a cohesive picture. 

“Despite having lived in Denmark for nine years and being familiar with these cultural factors through personal experience, it was only through this research project that I could connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding of their interplay,” Jones said.

‘Why are you here?’
Jones has taken a somewhat novel approach to addressing the age-old problem of why internationals still struggle to settle and form connections with Danes.

“When considering why these problems persist even after several years, I couldn’t help but flip the question and reflect on why these problems would not persist any more. I have not yet detected a change in the narrative around foreign workers in Denmark,” Jones said. 

She explains that the question ‘why are you here?’ is all too familiar to internationals. It often seems to carry an underlying implication of why prosperous and contented Denmark tolerates the presence of foreigners. 

“Unfortunately, there seems to be little recognition of the significant and vital contributions that foreigners make to the Danish economy and society,” Jonas said.

“While interest groups and organisations work diligently to emphasise the need for global talent to sustain economic growth, their focus often remains on the initial objective of bringing people to Denmark.”

However, the real challenges internationals face, according to Jones, arise after they have relocated to Denmark. 

“While there may be discussions and initiatives focused on attracting global talent, the post-arrival phase seems to receive less attention. It is essential to shift the conversation and place greater emphasis on the contribution foreign workers make and on understanding and addressing the difficulties that they encounter once they are in Denmark,” she continued.

“By acknowledging and openly discussing these challenges, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for foreign workers to thrive. Raising awareness among Danes about the specific issues foreign workers face after relocation is crucial.”

Major conclusions
In her study, she draws two major conclusions.

Firstly, it is essential to shift the perception that the responsibility for successful acculturation lies solely with foreign workers. Instead, there should be a growing awareness that integration difficulties arise from the interactions between Danes and foreign workers. 

And ultimately, it is Danish culture that needs to evolve for global talent to contribute significantly to the Danish economy.

“I believe that foreign workers have the potential to bring about positive change by challenging the Danish culture. I often wonder whether both Danes and foreigners could benefit from greater freedom to express more of their authentic selves in public spaces,” Jones said. 

She explains that she is reminded of the ‘insightful work of American Professor Brené Brown, who explores the concept of belonging versus fitting in. 

“When we suppress parts of ourselves in order to conform and fit in, our ability to truly belong and connect diminishes. Yet the connection to others is key to feeling a sense of belonging,” Jones said.