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Understanding the Work Culture in the UK

Work Culture in the UK

The culture of a country is found in the hearts and souls of its people and to get to know people and build a working relationship with them, one must first comprehend the unique culture of the country in question.

Culture is nothing but a collection of distinguishing characteristics of a social group that includes art and literature, lifestyles, ways of life, value systems, customs, and beliefs. “Culture is the programming of the mind, which distinguishes the members of one human group to another. To be more precise, culture is a pattern of basic assumptions—invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.” - Hofstede

While national culture refers to a nation's values, for example, language, religion, laws and regulations, political system, social structure, history, economics, technology, education, values, attitudes, customs, traditions, sense of time, music, art, and architecture, work culture is all about organisation’s values and a set of attitudes, beliefs, and actions that constitute the normal atmosphere of a workplace. Regardless of the globalisation effect, work cultures are inextricably linked to national cultures. For an international employee or entrepreneur, failing to comprehend the overseas work culture, which is profoundly based on national culture, would operate as a major impediment to their career and success. They will be excluded or treated as outsiders.

For example, employees who are unaware of culture may behave inappropriately to events, and they may be penalised for showing such behaviour, which is contrary to an organization's values. Similarly, a businessperson may believe they have done well at a new customer meeting and are anticipating the reward (work order), yet the encounter was a nightmare.

This goes without saying any country, even the United Kingdom, have a very unique cultural realm. The United Kingdom has a distinct working style, as well as a culture that is varied in terms of races and ethnicities. The UK has the globally most progressive work policies that are targeted to safeguard equality and harmony at workplaces. Acknowledging the limitations of the scope of this blog post, we will focus on major cultural distinctions that one should be aware of to excel in the workplace when working in the UK.

Communication in the UK: A peculiar combination of styles

For working professionals relocating to the UK, the communication style might be challenging at first. The British communication style is an odd mix of direct and indirect communication and any feedback or general contact is filled with indirect 'suggestions' and nuances that frequently mislead.

Take, for example, a manager's remark: "If you have time, you might wish to look into it...". If the same remark was made by a manager in India an employee would’ve completely ignored it or kept it as a last priority. While adjusting to working in the UK, it takes practice to learn to read between the lines and decipher what the British boss meant when they said, "Please analyse that issue as soon as possible."

Courtesy and Humour in the UK Workplace

The concentration on civility among the British appears to be the source of these perplexing nuances. "Do you mind if I don't open the door?" is a typical example. It is the epitome of British courtesy; nevertheless, a visitor to the UK may be left questioning whether or not that door should be left open!

It takes some time to get used to English humour and understatement. A casual remark such as, "Oh yes, don't worry, the report only took me about two hours," while in actuality it might’ve taken around five days and it might just be a light-hearted way of implying the person took longer to complete the report than anticipates but was elated to be finally completed. Only through experience will a listener develop a flair for the nuances that lurk underneath the British language.

An attitude of 'Give it a go

Another element of British culture that visitors to the UK may find uncomfortable is that individuals are typically open to change and are not afraid to make errors. They are always willing to 'give anything a go,' knowing that if it doesn't work out, they will be able to move on. For example, in the business jargon, ‘give it a go’ is used in the context of risking new deals or to encourage employees to take the extra mile. On the contrary, Asian cultures want to keep their dignity and avoid making any errors. These cultures place a high priority on stability and like to conduct a thorough study before implementing any change.

Values and Culture among the British

Meeting folks from the UK might also show distinct cultural values. The British are open and polite, and foreigners are often taken aback by their almost limitless capacity for a small conversation about the weather! "It's cold out today, isn't it?" people often say depending on the weather. One doesn’t even need to give a complete response; a simple nod would suffice. The purpose of making small weather talks is to determine if someone is in the mood for a small chat based on their response or if they are not particularly feeling chatty.

They would not, however, generally welcome new acquaintances to their house. Migrant workers will eventually discover that in Britain, friendship is formed through sharing activities such as going to the bar, golfing, or going to the gym.

In reality, 'going to the pub' is a significant element of British culture. It is common for newcomers to the UK to be surprised by the – often excessive – British drinking culture. Though, people visiting the UK for work will not be pressured to participate. The British just utilise "going to the pub" as a social activity, and no one will be insulted if people from other cultures choose not to partake.

Settling in a new country with a different work culture will surely time taking and challenging but a little research, preparation, and reading into the workplace culture can aid in getting an overview of what to expect while working and how to gradually settle in the workplace.