Posts Tagged ‘Danish welfare state’

Some of the things that are so desirable to many about Denmark is the relaxed lifestyle with a focus on family and friends, biking as a main source of transportation and a great way to experience the city, and the tropical weather. Well, maybe not the weather, consisting of gray skies, gusty winds, and rain.

But one of the major attractions that I have heard the most about is Danish jobs.  Danes work about an average of 37 hours per week with a minimum of 5 weeks’ vacation plus national holiday.  Liberal employment regulations, a broad net of social security and a pro-active labor market policy are all combined under what can best be described as flexicurity.  Although, a 37 hour work week might be the norm, the career oriented might tend to work more. In the U.S., besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker might get anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks out of the whole year for vacation and most of the times there are strings attached.  Some U.S. companies might not like for employees to take more than 1 week off at a time or expect employees to be relatively on call.

A big reason for this major difference is that employers are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so more than 25% of American workers (based on government figures) don’t even have access to it.  However, in Denmark, paid time off is mandated by law.  So with all of this in mind, I think that Danes work to live and Americans live to work.

Last month, I attended a Work in Denmark seminar about the Danish workplace, since I am looking for job opportunities in Denmark.  And the speaker described his first experience with a Danish job, in which he had a very similar work mentality of the U.S. mentality that working long hours per day is a measure of ambition, success and drive.  So when he first received his job in Denmark, he said he worked to about 7pm one night while every Dane at the office went home by 4pm at the latest.  So the next morning, he said he sort of bragged about having worked so late and his Danish employees were actually not impressed.  Why?  Because of the construction of the work life in comparison to life, one is supposed to create a balance, meaning you still work hard but efficiently so that by 4pm you have time for family, friends, and leisure.  Working longer than the typical Danish work day, might actually be interpreted as not being efficient enough within your allotted work hours and that you have the potential to become a costly employee!  In Denmark, balance and moderation are highly honored values.  This would mean that ideally (and in practice) you are supposed to center your work around your life and not so much the other way around.  You are supposed to make time for family, friends, and leisure.

However, in the U.S., many Americans are faced with the fear of layoffs and the increasing pace of work which would mean that many American might be a bit reluctant to take time off.  This could be because of anxiety that they are not committed to their job or worry about dealing with the backlog of work that will be waiting for them after vacation.  Also, based on a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies (,  working actually makes Americans happier than Europeans because Americans believe more than Europeans that hard work is associated with success!

Lastly, I think the attainment of the American Dream, as a way to sum up our national ethos is still very much a driving factor for many Americans.  And work is the way to achieve this dream, which is not something I have come across in Danish culture.  Denmark has one of the highest employment rates, so it is not that Danes are lazy and don’t like to work, it’s just that work life is taken in moderation. But based on welfare structure, the U.S. has a liberal residual welfare model (but in practice is more pluralistic) which would mean you only get welfare assistance if you really need it.  In Denmark, because of the high taxes, ranging from 40-60% which essentially helps maintain the universal welfare state, even the unemployed receive a high level of benefits as well as comprehensive retraining for new jobs.

Therefore, the welfare state in Denmark produces a sense of security and comfort that the U.S. does not have in terms of unemployment.  Even maternity leave is about 12 months (paid) and paternity leave is an option.  Overall, it seems to me that if you were to take a step back from the U.S. and Denmark, Danes work to live meaning work is meant to be scheduled around one’s life while Americans live to work meaning that life tends to be scheduled around one’s job.  However, based on each country’s welfare models and socio-cultural values this might be quite relative.  Could the U.S. learn something from Denmark and could Denmark learn something from the U.S.?  What do you think?


Okay so I finally have time to update you all on the Copenhagen Youth Ambassador Program.  I apologize if this is a bit long!  😀

4 November: Branding Workshop
For the branding workshop, the Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors visited Arriva, a major public transport company stationed in several countries throughout Europe. The whole point of this visit was to learn about how to brand Copenhagen. We were given presentations on the key points of Copenhagen and about the company, Arriva.

Arriva is a quite fascinating company with a proud concept of international diversity. Arriva in Denmark has over 42 nationalities represented and 50% of their employees are international.  The job of the Youth Ambassadors was to come up with a cartoon that defines Copenhagen. First, we just brainstormed what we thought about Copenhagen, that could be used to attract tourists. Interestingly enough, we all struggled with this. We all decided that besides green energy, the Little Mermaid, and biking, it’s really difficult to brand Copenhagen. We all thought that Denmark is really a living experience.  When you think of Denmark, it’s hard to really find one thing that defines it as Denmark on a global scale.  So we were divided into 2 groups and each group came up with a cartoon that branded or represented their views about Denmark and the one that received the most votes was presented at the Youth Ambassadors Conference.

If you want to see a write-up about the Youth Ambassadors cartoon in the Danish newspaper (MetroExpress), click here Metro Express Go to pages 22-23!   I’m even featured in this newspaper! 😀

Even more interesting was when the President (I think…) of Arriva put the concept of international diversity into perspective. He mentioned that in light of the Muhammad cartoons and other immigration issues in Denmark, ”race” and ”religion” are NOT a problem at Arriva.  Even with so many international workers, there has been relatively NO bigotry or discriminatory motivated incidences.  He said it is more so the question of can you do your job? This was even evidenced by the fact that Arriva won the 2010 Integration Award!
Question: In terms of immigration and integration issues in Denmark, if you look hard enough for something are you bound to find it?  In other words, in terms of my research here, I constantly ask myself if “race/ethnicity” or “religion” are really problems or do my research goals in mind actually predispose me to a certain view of Danish culture? Anthropological reflexivity at it’s finest.

This whole experience really made me think about what Denmark is experiencing at the moment. With the global recession and all the baggage that comes along with that, Denmark seems to be a bit fearful or uneasy of losing it’s welfare state. The welfare state is something that Denmark has worked so hard to preserve and it is deeply embedded into the Danish identity. What you put into the system is supposed to equal the benefits that you get back. Universal healthcare access, student stipends while attending the university, overall good quality of life, and many other benefits are all apart of the welfare state. Even more embedded into all of this is the preservation of the Danish language, culture and identity. With the impending pressures of globalization many countries, that have been relatively isolated and insular are facing the challenges of having to open themselves up to the outside world but still preserve their country’s cultural ideals and imperatives.   This is definitely evidenced in Denmark, such as the University of Copenhagen’s goals to internationalize itself and more jobs looking for international labor.
Question: How much can Denmark open itself up before it begins to lose the essence of what makes it Denmark?

24 November: Youth Ambassadors Conference
This was designed as a seminar and forum to learn about some of the things we can do as Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors. We had talks about why is Denmark a great place to work, live and/or study. There were also lots of talk about Denmark’s future.

Anders Eldrup, CEO of DONG Energy clearly outlined Denmark’s green energy goals. Currently, Denmark uses 85% fossil fuel energy and 15% wind or green energy, by 2040 Denmark plans to reverse this and make it 85% wind or green energy and 15% fossil fuel energy. Next year, Denmark even plans to introduce electric cars on a much bigger scale. Waldemar Schmidt gave a talk on the business aspect of Denmark but also the global perceptions. I’ve learned that many products have a bigger name than Denmark, itself. Take for example, LEGO which up until 2 years ago, I thought were exclusively made in the states but they’re made in Denmark.  So Denmark, really has to find more creative ways to market itself as a country that is linked to some of it’s biggest products.

We finished off the Youth Ambassadors Conference with 2 panel debates consisting of some of the more experience Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors and other very distinguished people with ties to Denmark.  Some key points from the panel debates were that to be a Youth Ambassador, one has to be aware of the opportunities that Denmark has to offer and how to creatively utilize our outside-in perspective of Denmark.  Overall, Copenhagen Youth Ambassadors are expected to complete 2 projects, yearly, that can benefit Denmark.

29 November: Novo Nordisk Company Visit & Meeting with President & CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen
Okay, so out of all the Copenhagen Youth Ambassador visits, this was definitely my most favorite visit! I have to admit that I usually have a negative perspective of pharmaceuticals, only caring about profit and not enough about the well-being of their fellow patients. However, Novo Nordisk in Denmark seemed to be the ideal work place.

So Novo Nordisk, is also international friendly and prides istself on 70% of its graduates being from countries other than Denmark. We began this visit with an inspirational lecture from President & CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen! He basically put Novo Nordisk within a Danish and global perspective. There is approx. 300 million people living with diabetes, globally. Of that statistic, 50% are diagnosed and 50% of the diagnosed actually have access to quality diabetes care. Novo Nordisk has been a leader in diabetes care since the 1923! The largest part of Novo Nordisk is stationed in North America.

Novo Nordisk seeks to constantly keep quality and price at an affordable level. They also try to make their diabetes products as user-friendly and life-style adaptable as possible. For example, traditionally one would have to take insulin shots at a specific time before one could even eat. Also you’d have to stick yourself with a needle. With this in mind, insulin shots would basically control one’s life. Well, Novo Nordisk in Denmark has created insulin that can be taken while you are eating and they have something that’s more like a pen but doesn’t have the same feel or fear associated with it as a needle. Also, through programs such as DAWN (Diabetes Attitudes Wishes & Needs), Novo Nordisk is trying to connect its products directly with the clinical level by empowering patients to be more active participants in the clinical process. It seems that their goal is to help make people with diabetes to understand that life does still go on. So Novo Nordisk in Denmark not only looks at making a profit as I usually have in mind for the pharmaceutical industry but they also try to connect their products with patients at the clinical level. It’s like adding a life story or face behind statistics about people living with diabetes.

We concluded the Novo Nordisk visit with student graduate presentations about working for Novo Nordisk and an informal networking buffet.