Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Do Scandinavians Hate Responsibility?

Danish business grad explains why her countrymen shun promotion at work

By  Samuel Hargadine

Thu Oct 14 2010

When yours truly was asked to gauge Scandinavian opinion about a recent story in the Copenhagen Post, I figured, “Great, how ever will I track down one of these hidden Nordic folk that walk amongst us?” They all seem to speak amazing English, and oh, wait a minute! They’re all blonde!

Well, I’m here to tell you that they’re not all blonde, and furthermore, the sweeping generalities from the Post article don’t seem to be true either. For those of you that are hyperlink-reluctant, I’ll summarize: Basically, the article says that Scandinavians, and Danes in particular, are risk averse and tend to stay in mediocre jobs longer than your average Anglo-American might.

I spoke to Charlotte Sørensen, current B-school student, recent alumna of Copenhagen Business School, and even more recently – new addition to the family. Charlotte is from Denmark and was kind enough to share some of her views about Scandinavian business with me.

Firstly I asked her, “What was your first impression of the Copenhagen Post article?”

She quickly muttered something about a “Carrot.” When I gave her the obligatory “Huh” that all of you readers are now thinking, she elaborated:

Charlotte: There’s a saying in Denmark, Vi mangler guleroden. It means we miss the carrot. Basically, if somebody waits around too long they miss out.

Me: Oh, okay. We have similar sayings – something to do with early birds and worms. But anyway, do you think that the article is accurate?

Charlotte: Yes and no. I think that the problem the article is getting at is true, but the reasoning behind it is faulty. First off, there are real problems with motivation in Denmark – but it’s not because of the welfare state. The cause is more direct then that: Taxes. To pay for such a nice safety net, people who are successful pay proportionately more. There’s simply less incentive to take risks than in other countries – that is what the article is correct in saying.

Me: So you're saying that it’s not a laziness factor, it’s more of an incentivization problem.

Charlotte: Precisely. Also, we in Denmark have a normative law called Janteloven. It’s sort of a “Who do you think you are?” custom. It’s considered very rude to brag about things you achieve and that sort of stuff. It may correlate in some way with how people responded to the survey referenced in the article, and maybe has a larger effect on how we view ourselves.

Me: That’s interesting. Where do you see Danish business going in the future?

Charlotte: Well, I’m a little pessimistic. Denmark is nice because business is very informal and has a flat hierarchy. However, we have to make education a bigger priority. The infamous “Gap Year” has pushed back the age of when Danish people finish their education – sometimes indefinitely. If we want to stay competitive we need to re-orient ourselves to more serious studies before it’s too late.

I finished my conversation with Charlotte much better informed about the Danish business climate than when I started. Charlotte herself is one that is after that illustrious carrot made famous by the Danish phrase – She’s only 21 and already doing graduate work! Check Charlotte’s profile out at In fact, see you around there myself.