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The work culture in Norway foreigners should be aware of

The work culture in Norway foreigners should be aware of
Working in Norway might have a few surprises in store. Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash
Fairness and flexibility are perhaps the best words to describe working life in Norway. Here's what you need to know about how Norwegian culture has influenced work environments and what to expect after you’ve first "clocked in".

What hierarchy?

The working culture in Norway can be characterised as a flat structure with many laws set in place to protect employees. It may be hard to spot who the boss is on your first days of work as he or she is likely dressed the same way as everyone else and is working in the same space.

Employees are encouraged to ask questions, work together with their superiors to problem-solve and be involved in making decisions.

READ ALSO: Salaries in Norway: Which jobs have seen wages rise (and fall) the most?

Bridging the income inequality gap

As a culture, Norwegians believe in fairness and are active in ensuring that quality of life at work is the same for all. Everyone is entitled to at least 25 working days holiday each year, anti-discrimination laws are heavily enforced, and salaries are not a secret.

Almost as many women as men work in Norway. In addition, men and women have completed higher education in roughly equal numbers. 

Miriam Sjåstad Langseth, a doctor who works at a hospital in Drammen says: “I think that in general men and women are treated as equals by colleagues and employers in the Norwegian medical profession.

“But it’s not uncommon for patients, especially the elderly, to be expecting a male doctor or mistake female doctors for a nurse,” she added.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

READ ALSO: ‘Fellesferie’: What you need to know about holiday pay in Norway

In fact, formerly male-dominated professions such as a doctor of medicine are witnessing a huge shift and are now seeing more women than men trying to enter the vocation. This change is in large part because Norway has social systems set in place, like maternity leave, making it easier for women to choose whatever profession they want. 

Casual work environments

There is not a heavy emphasis on addressing others in a formal manner in the Norwegian workforce. You can be the city mayor, a teacher or a trash collector. No matter your job title, you’re likely going to get called by your first name by everyone you work with.

Dress is casual. It would be difficult to try and guess where everyone else is heading to while sitting on the subway in the middle of morning rush traffic – a preschool teacher is likely wearing something similar to the CEO of a company. 

The language used in emails tends to be informal. Emoji’s have become more accepted (don’t be the first to use one if you are unsure), and most emails begin with a casual ‘hei’ or ‘hi’.

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Work-life balance

Family and children are perhaps the highest priorities in Norwegian culture. And the workforce has been moulded around the belief that time with your family and loved ones is just as necessary as the job.

Many employees enjoy a healthy work-life balance and are relieved of a lot of (not all) the pressure that comes with managing a family and a job at the same time.

A casual work culture is a Norway norm. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Usually, no one will blink an eye if you have to leave early to take your child to an appointment or want to attend their sports matches. 

Jonas Buestad, a principal in Lindesnes says this relaxed system doesn’t get in the way of work and actually promotes productivity.

“If you have employees that are given time to prioritise their family they’ll be more motivated to work hard and finish their tasks while at work.” he said.

A lot of workers in Norway have flexible ‘arbeidstid‘, (“flexible work hours”) in their contracts. This means they can easily work a few hours extra one day in order to leave early the next day without having to submit a formal request.

READ ALSO: Nine tips for finding a job in Norway

It is also common to see rush hour start a little earlier than usual on Fridays as it has become habitual to start the weekend early. 

In addition, multiple companies offer summer hours which allows for employees to leave earlier during the warmer months so they can be out and enjoy the good weather. It is made up for in the winter time when working days are partially extended to make up for the hours lost. 

Education is key

Norwegians are highly motivated by their own personal development within the workforce and companies like to encourage this. A lot of members of the workforce begin their careers having already finished a higher level of formal education, but the learning doesn’t stop. 

Different industries such as in healthcare and education send their employees and management on continued education courses to refresh their  knowledge on the subject and stay up to date.

“It’s very important to stay in sync with the times,” said Buestad. It’s not uncommon for a colleague to be out of the office for the full day or even a week because they are off attending a course.

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Before becoming a principal, Buestad started out as an elementary school teacher.

“The education courses helped me create connections within my profession so I could ask about things later on,” said Buestad.

“They also helped me find where I should have my focus,” he added.

Meeting culture

Employees are encouraged to ask questions and work together with superiors to solve any issues that arise. “A lot of times they have better solutions because they are closer to the challenge,” said Buestad.

This amounts to a lot of meetings. Yes, Norwegians like to have a lot of meetings, but they are generally short and to the point. Many workers are involved in multiple meetings a day, so they often start and end on schedule.

When a meeting adjourns, participants usually leave, almost abruptly, and avoid lingering around to make small talk. 

What is a fast job versus a temporary job?

A fast job or a “permanent job” means the employee has signed a contract that says they will be engaged permanently. Positives of a permanent contract include job security, predictable workdays, a chance to sharpen your skills and build a great working relationship with your colleagues.

The workforce in both public and private companies aim to offer most jobs with a permanent contract. This provides a sense of belonging and safety in a lot of job environments. 

A temporary job means you have usually signed a contract to work with a company up until a specific date. These include ‘vikariat’ positions (“substitute positions”) that allow you to fill in for someone who is away on parental leave, for example. 

Job Security

Job security in Norway is exceptional. There is a common saying/joke that it is impossible to get fired in Norway if you have a permanent contract.

While this is untrue, it rings accurate as it is very difficult for an employer to terminate an employee with a permanent contract.

If it does occur, it will almost never come out of the blue. Employers are required to document the grounds for termination, let the employee know of their dissatisfaction and give them time to fix their mistakes. 

A dismissal must be objectively justified to be legal. And an employee can not be let go because they got sick or had to take a leave of absence, for example. Necessary downsizing is most often the case for anyone losing their jobs in Norway. 

Useful vocabulary 

fast ansettelse – permanent employment 

utdanning – education

et møte – a meeting 

sykemeldt – sick leave

To find your ideal job in Norway, take a look at our Jobs in Norway section.


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