UK Work Culture
Work Culture in the UK
To succeed in business in the UK, it is vital for both employers and employees to have a strong understanding of the business culture. British business culture reflects modern and globalized Western society, which places importance on both the work and wellbeing of management and employees. As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the British work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in the UK to start your expansion well-informed.
Punctuality, politeness, skillful and pragmatic negotiation, and humor are significant to the development of business relationships in the UK. Local businessmen place great importance in their relationships; thus, it is important to both you and your local business partners to treat business dealings with respect and great care. Punctuality: In Britain, people make a great effort to arrive to meetings or events on time, but they have also formalized being a bit late (up to 10 minutes). If you are arriving late, it is best to inform the person or people you are meeting with.
Languages: English is the official language in the UK and is also the predominantly spoken language in the UK. It is unlikely that many people in the UK will speak other languages – even though the majority have had some language training at school.
In the UK, many are not comfortable making mistakes in front of others so they may choose not to speak in other languages, but this does not mean that they do not understand them. Thus, knowledge of English is important for our business dealings, or the engagement of appropriate interpreting facilities.
Business Cards: Before or at the beginning of a meeting, associates typically exchange business cards. Business cards should display someone’s job, first name and surname. Academic titles are normally not included on a business card unless they are relevant to the person’s work.
Introductions/Greetings: The most common greeting in the UK is a handshake, which should be firm, but not too strong. In social settings, greetings are usually informal, and first names are used. In introductions, it is best not to ask too many questions, as this can be seen as prying. However, you should ask where they are from in the UK, so as to not mistake them from being English if they are Scottish, vice versa, etc.
Gift-giving: Gifts are typically only given on special occasions and tend to be opened in front of the giver upon being received or later along with other presents. They should not be of high monetary value and should reflect the person’s interests. Gifts such as wine and chocolate should also be given when visiting someone’s home.
Dress code: Dress codes in the UK are strict. Men wear suits, ties, and white, striped, or colored shirts and black shoes; whilst women wear suits (trouser or skirt) or dresses, often with high heels. However, many organizations have more casual clothing styles on a Friday.
Hierarchy: The vast majority of companies and organizations in Britain have a distinct hierarchy. British managers are firm, resolute and effective in their instructions, which often are expressed as polite requests, or even suggestions – their authority as decision-makers should also not be challenged.
Class distinctions are also still present and important in British culture, although it is not directly obvious. Differences in social status such as manner of speech, dress, and behavior, as well as educational background and networks, also play a role in the workplace and their hierarchical structure
Meetings: Meetings in the UK are time-consuming and set well in advance – and local businessmen prefer working with people that they know, relate to, or can identify with. So, an informal introduction before the meeting is preferential. Most meetings have a set agenda, and they typically begin with some icebreakers and small talk. Discussions in a meeting can be informal, and due to the task-oriented structure of meetings in Britain, each participant will usually leave with a specific task to carry out.
Negotiations: In the UK, local businessmen are skillful and tough negotiators, and follow a pragmatic approach in negotiations. Throughout negotiations, it is important to stay calm and polite. An informal and humorous tone may sometimes be used to disguise the seriousness of an issue being discussed. Agreements need to be formalized in writing, and it is rare for a commitment or agreement to be announced right away.
Communication: Humor is an integral part of the typical subtle communication that is experienced all across the UK. The British are known for their irony and humor – however, this runs the risk of non-native speakers misunderstanding their counterparts. Understatements and euphemisms are commonly used as a means to indirectly emphasize a point – for reasons of modesty, preventing embarrassment, or expressing criticism whilst remaining polite.
Socializing: British work culture involves the tendency to keep work and private lives separate. However, in most companies, colleagues like to socialize out of work, such as enjoying after-work drinks together on Fridays. Invitations to someone’s work are gestures of affection and sympathy and normally occurs when the relationship of business partners has progressed into a friendship.
All employees in the UK are entitled to receive at least the statutory minimum wage, which is split into two types, depending on your age and/or apprenticeship:
- National Living Wage – for employees aged 23 and over
- National Minimum Wage – for employees who are at least school-leaving age (16-18)
- As of April 2021, these minimum wage rates apply:
- Apprentice – £4.30
- Under 18 – £4.62
- 18 – 20 – £6.56
- 21 – 22 – £8.36
- 23 & over – £8.91
There is no statutory probationary period in the UK, but the employer can implement one, which must be consented to by the employee. Most probationary periods are between 3-6 months.
An organization may also extend a probationary period to allow more time to assess the new employee’s suitability, but only if it forms part of the employment contract. If deemed necessary, the extension should then be set out in writing, which states:
- the reasons for it
- the matters which are to be tackled
- setting targets
- a revised probationary review date