Danish working culture offers some of the best work-life balance in the world, and many people who work elsewhere envy the working hours in Denmark.
The work week is generally 37.5 hours for people employed by companies, a figure that is set in the regular negotiations between employee unions and employer unions. (Wages are also set during these negotiations: Denmark has no minimum wage.)
A work week of 37.5 hours divides into 7.5 hours a day of work five days a week, with 30 minutes unpaid for lunch. This means that in offices where work begins at 8am, many employees leave around 4pm or even slightly earlier if they need to pick up their children from day care.
Blue-collar workers and construction workers sometimes begin work even earlier, around 6am or 7am, and then complete their workday by 2pm or 3pm.
Don’t work longer hours than they are paid for
That doesn’t mean that ambitious Danish employees won’t check their email at home in the evenings, perhaps after their children are in bed.
But it is not considered acceptable for a Danish boss to ask Danish employees to regularly work longer than the hours they have been contracted to work. If there is an emergency situation or a big project, they might be pressed into service to help the team, but then be given compensatory time off to even things out.
In addition, Danish workers are guaranteed a minimum of five weeks’ time off per year, plus public holidays. Bosses encourage workers to take all of their time off, and it is considered bad style to interrupt co-workers when they are on vacation. Working hours in Denmark consist solely of time when you are specifically on the job.
Applies only to employees
The agreed limits on working hours in Denmark apply only to employees, and specifically to employees who are represented by a union. (In Denmark, even highly-educated workers are usually union members.)
People who work for themselves, or own their own companies, are not subject to any limits on working hours, and surveys show that the self-employed also take fewer vacation days.
In addition, people in specialty industries such as top law firms sometimes work many additional hours in order to advance their careers.
You can learn more about working hours in Denmark in our book “How to Work in Denmark: Tips for Finding a Job, Succeeding at Work, and Understanding Your Danish Boss.”