Work Structure

Norwegian companies are generally flat/non-hierachical in their company structure. Everyone is addressed by their first names – no Mr/Mrs X or Sir/Madam and everyone’s opinions are valued. Some attribute this to the ‘Jante Law‘, which states ‘Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.’

Bosses in Norway behave more like facilitators rather than authoritarian figures. They are usually approachable and do not act as though they are superior to their subordinates. There is openness of communication in the workplace and freedom of information. As a result, Norwegians are usually very good team players.

In Norway, single employees or a small team of people are usually solely responsible for specific tasks and duties.This system has developed so that everyone knows their work well and can perform it effectively without interference from their colleagues. However, this system has its drawbacks as well – the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. One employee may have absolutely no clue about his/her colleague’s portfolio. If an employee is off sick or on holiday, no one else may be able to complete the job or answer queries. So you will just have to wait for that employee to come back to work. Note this especially during the common holiday period (lasting 3 weeks in July) – it can seem as though the whole country shuts down and you will have to wait til August for a response.

Working Hours

Norwegians usually work anywhere from 35.5 to 40 hours a week (depends on your company and if you work in shifts). If you work over 40 hours a week, it is considered overtime and you should either be paid extra (at least 40% of normal hourly pay) or get time off (again, this is highly dependent on your company’s policies). Daily working hours range from 0700 to 1700 (0700 to 1500, 0800 to 1600, etc) Many companies allow its employees to have flexible working hours, meaning as long as the employee fulfils the number of working hours for the day, he/she can work either 0700 to 1500 or 0800 to 1600 or even 0900 to 1700. However, some companies require that all employees be in the office during the fixed basic hours, which is usually 0900 to 1500. This is called kjernetid.

Employees are entitled to a break if their daily working hours exceed 5.5 hours, and breaks shall total half an hour if the daily working hours exceed 8 hours.

At work, some offices have their own staff canteens offering hot and cold meals at subsidised rates while other companies order in food (pålegg, sandwiches, salads, etc) for their employees. Otherwise or alternatively, employees can choose to bring their own lunch box(matpakke) to work. This usually consists of sandwiches, salads or even dinner leftovers.

Holidays (Ferie) and Holiday Money (Feriepenger)

Most employees get 5 weeks (ie 25 working days) of paid holiday a year. Older employees get an extra 5 days off. Norwegians have the tradition of taking their summer holidays each year in July. In 2010, trade unions recommend that the common summer holiday period (fellesferie) be during 12th July to 30th July.

Norway has a system where they pay out holiday money (which is a percentage of what you earned) the year after. For example, if you earned 500 000 NOK in 2009, you will get holiday money (feriepenger) of about 51 000 NOK in June of 2010. The percentage of what you get each year may be different (it usually ranges from 10.2 to 12%).

For more information, click here.

Sick Leave and Leave for Other Reasons

Generally, you can call in sick for up to 3 calendar days without producing a doctor’s letter or certificate. If you are sick for more than 3 calendar days, you will have to produce a letter or a certificate from the doctor. (sykemelding). In a year, you have a stipulated number of times where you can call in sick (usually 4 times in the course of a 12-month period). After you have used those up, you have to produce a doctor’s letter for each time you are sick. Your doctor will assess whether full sick leave (100%) is required or whether you are able to perform some of your work and only need partial sick leave. Your employer should adjust your duties accordingly, if neccessary.

You also have stipulated number of days where you can go on child sick leave and if a family member is terminally ill or passes away. Some companies also allow other kinds of leave days such as moving day (flyttingsdag) and examination days. Check with your HR department.

Work Ethics

Norwegians are generally honest, reliable and trustworthy in their dealings. If a Norwegian says they will get something done, they will definitely do so. Norwegian employers are usually very approachable and accept constructive feedback. They are also usually very appreciative of jobs well done.

Norwegians are also generally very punctual. As such, try not to be late when you go to work or if you are meeting Norwegians to discuss business. If you are going to be late, be sure to call and let them know. Lateness can be seen as lack of respect and courtesy for the other people present.

Norwegians are also particular about leaving work on time. Unless really necessary, Norwegians usually will not work overtime. Meetings and discussions usually end on time as well. If you are chairing a meeting, be sure to end 5 minutes before time or exactly on time. Your colleagues may have other commitments to attend to. Due to the high cost of labour in Norway, most families do not engage help with housework, children and other household duties. Instead, they have to do everything themselves – picking children up from daycare, making meals, driving the children to extracurricular activities, housework, gardening, etc. Even high level employees have to do these.

In the past, few Norwegians will bring their work home with them, unless it is vitally important that they do so. However, with the improvements in technology, more and more Norwegians are answering work-related emails even outside office hours.

Norwegians usually do not like ‘fluff’ in sales meetings – they are open, honest, direct, to the point and expect others to be the same. Overselling a product or an idea usually will not sit well with Norwegians.

Norway boasts one of the most gender-equal countries in the world and women usually have no problems at work.

Body language seems to be a little muted in Norway, Norwegians do not seem to gesticulate much when they speak. As such, some might think Norwegians are disinterested or aloof.

If you are working in a small or medium sized company, be prepared to be involved in menial duties like making coffee, changing the toner on the copy machine, etc. Norwegians tend to divide out these chores among its employees – even high level employees can be expected to be involved.

Meetings and Decision-Making

Decision-making is consensual and everyone is encouraged to contribute at meetings. The chairperson of the meeting often feels the need to include everyone in the decision-making process and it is deemed vital that everyone’s opinion is listened to and considered. As a result, decisions can be hard to reach and the process can seem lengthy and painful. To those who are used to quick decision making, it may seem that Norwegians are reluctant to shoulder responsibility for decisions.

However, the advantage of this practice is that information flow in companies is usually very open and all employees feel engaged and valued.

Agendas and minute taking is very important at meetings. If you arrange a meeting, send out an agenda beforehand to inform the meeting participants of the purpose and timeframe of the meeting. During the meeting, have someone take minutes and set a deadline for actions and who is responsible for said actions. Send out the minutes to the meeting participants as soon as possible after the meeting. Be sure to keep to the timeframe of the meeting.

Work Dress Code

It seems to me that the dress code for work is more smart-casual than formal. Norwegians seem to dress up for parties, confirmations, weddings and Christmas, rather than for work.

Socialising with Colleagues, At Work and Outside Work

Norwegians at work are generally private and keep to themselves. They generally do not socialise with or open up to colleagues, preferring to keep the work relationship just that. Alternatively they might go out once a month for lønningspils (literally translated to ‘salary beer’) However, some foreigners have also been warmly welcomed by their Norwegian colleagues and been invited to house parties and other gatherings.

There is a ton of different information about working in Norway and it is impossible to cover everything. Check out the Arbeidstilsynet – Ministry of Labour for more information. The website is in Norwegian with some bits in English but Google Translate can help to a certain extent.

Just for interest:
The Viking Laws 
1.Be brave and aggressive.

  • Be direct.
  • Grab all opportunities.
  • Use varying methods of attack.
  • Be versatile and agile.
  • Attack one target at a time.
  • Don’t plan everything in detail.
  • Use top quality weapons.

2.Be prepared.

  • Keep weapons in good condition.
  • Keep in shape.
  • Find good battle comrades.
  • Agree on important points.
  • Choose one chief.

3.Be a good merchant.

  • Find out what the market needs.
  • Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
  • Don’t demand overpayment.
  • Arrange things so that you can return.

4.Keep the camp in order.

  • Keep things tidy and organized.
  • Arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group.
  • Make sure everyone does useful work.
  • Consult all members of the group for advice.

I guess you can still see some of the Viking Laws in use in today’s work culture!

Disclaimer: Do note that everyone and every company is different. The above is just general information gathered from different sources.