The wind power departments in Kolding employ many newcomers with varying backgrounds and mentalities. News from Vattenfall asked who they are, what brought them to Kolding and what is it like to work in an international team.
Daniel Stix is a mechanical engineer from Austria, but he has also lived and worked in the USA. Neither work nor studies brought him to Denmark, but romance with another foreigner, from Iceland. He has now lived in Denmark for ten years and speaks Danish like a native.
Stix got a job at Vattenfall as Project Quality Manager for the Danish Horns Rev 3 offshore wind project in January 2016.
“Cultural differences? I no longer think about them. Well, in Austria we always say Mr, Miss or Madam, use surnames and have a very hierarchical structure. In the States, you never leave before the boss, you work long hours but not necessarily very efficiently. That kind of hierarchy has been absent in all the Danish companies in which I have worked.”
At Vattenfall, Stix appreciates these flat hierarchies, the open atmosphere and the multi-national team in which he works. “A diverse group of people will always be better than a homogeneous one,” he feels.
For Samaneh Golestani, moving to and working in Denmark was a downsizing exercise. Up until October 2015, she lived in Teheran, a city of 10 million people, almost twice as many as the entire population of Denmark.
“In Denmark, most women don’t want to be engineers, but in Iran most many engineers and 70 per cent of all university students are women,” Golestani says. “But it’s easier for men to get promoted and female bosses are rare.”
Golestani spent six months learning Danish before leaving Iran, alongside a full working week while simultaneously working on her PhD thesis. Some of her friends were already in Denmark and could help with accommodation. In fact, they were the ones to suggest that her education as an electrical engineer could be a good fit with Vattenfall. There were many surprises for Golestani when she started her new job. “Vattenfall makes breakfast available to the employees in the morning. In Iran that is banned in most companies and bosses would rather people were working than eating. And the concept of flexible working is unthinkable there,” she explains.
To Golestani, the tradition of breaking a wooden barrel full of candy and chocolate at Shrovetide was an equally big surprise.
“It’s nice to see adults having fun and laughing heartily over simple things at work. I am used to a stricter work etiquette.”
“Even as a young employee, you have a right to voice your opinion in Denmark. And it is quite acceptable to disagree with your manager. That would never happen in Spain,” says Ben Martinez, an R&D engineer from Barcelona. “In Spain, you have to earn your manager’s trust, whereas here in the Kolding office, I felt that there was a basic trust from the start – I was surprised that I was left to do my job after just a couple of days!”
“No spontaneous discussions or sudden brainstorming sessions on a whiteboard”, he observes. “In a Spanish office these things happen all the time and the resulting noise level is high, whereas it’s as quiet as in a theatre in Denmark.”
“I really appreciate the work environment in Kolding. You go to work because you are interested in developing the company and yourself, and I am quite honoured to do something that is really needed in the development of wind projects,” Martinez adds.
He does not find working in an international group to be out of the ordinary. “You may see a colleague who does things rather differently due to his or her nationality. But instead of judging by stereotypes, I believe you should look at the individual person and how you can benefit or learn from them.”
Gabi Mikkelsen left the small town of Bagaciu in the Romanian province of Transylvania in 2001. The town had only 2,500 inhabitants, unemployment was rife and many people had to travel far to find work.
She knew nothing about Denmark before she arrived as an au-pair thirteen years ago. “My advice to others is definitely that they should learn the language of their chosen country as soon as possible, it helps on so many levels.”
After finishing her studies, she got a job with services provider ISS, who assigned her to Vattenfall’s reception in Kolding, where she has worked for the past four years.
“There is a huge difference between the Romanian and Danish mentalities. In Denmark, criticism is perceived as being fine and something you learn from, and at the same time it is more generally accepted that employees voice their opinion and ideas – also to their boss. That won’t do in Romania, where you speak to your manager and senior colleagues in a formal way and work relations are much more hierarchical. Everything is much more relaxed and the atmosphere is a lot more pleasant in Denmark, and in particular here at Vattenfall. You feel appreciated and respected, and no one is discriminated against.”
She misses a higher level of socialising with her colleagues, as is the norm in Romania, and she would also like some more room for spontaneity in daily life. “That was a big change for me compared to Romania, where arriving on time is another thing you don’t take so seriously.”
Anette Hansen is part of an international team at Vattenfall, with colleagues from the UK, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and many other countries. Working in a diverse setting with people from all over the world is just part of her daily life in the Kolding office. In general and on a professional level, Hansen is positive towards this international environment and appreciates the cultural diversity. But she also acknowledges that there are certain challenges. “Language is often a barrier. Conversations tend to get very formal. And when non-native speakers actually learn a little bit of Danish, we are often not good at remembering to speak to them in Danish – because it’s so easy to stick with English.”
Hansen thinks that everyone is really helpful in the Kolding office, but she believes that a more structured welcome programme should be prepared for newcomers. Personally speaking, Hansen sometimes feels caught between gratitude and guilt towards her international colleagues. “I feel guilty because I would like to do or offer more. There are just not enough hours in the day!” she says. “However, that does mean that we also really benefit from each other. I love it that many colleagues share their cultural traditions with us.”