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Work culture in the UK: Discover the Do’s and Don’ts

Work culture in the UK: Discover the Do’s and Don’ts
A country's culture is found in the hearts and souls of its people, and in order to comprehend people and create a working rapport with them, one must first understand the country's distinctive culture.

While the growing number and importance of international experts to the UK sectors are now well acknowledged, little is known about how workers from non-UK nations feel and interact with the unique and distinguishing culture that predominates in British enterprises. If not prepared before entering the workforce in the UK, immigrants might spend a lifetime understanding its quirks and oddities, resulting in a big hindrance to career and success.

They will be shunned or treated as outcasts. Employees who are uninformed of workplace culture, for example, may behave badly at events and maybe penalised for such unethical behaviour against an organisation's principles. Similarly, a businessperson may believe they did well at a new customer meeting and are looking forward to the reward (work order), despite the fact that the experience was a nightmare.

Now, what makes British culture unique?

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 race and ethnicity. The UK has the globally most progressive work policies that are targeted to safeguard equality and harmony at the workplace. Acknowledging the Do’s and Don’ts of the UK work culture, we will focus on major cultural distinctions that one should be aware of to excel in the workplace when working in the UK.

Do’s and Don’ts of communication in the UK workplace

Use politeness when communicating

Politeness is extremely important in UK organisations, however, for non-native speakers who are accustomed to hearing a direct order, this can add ambiguity to the language. For example, 'do not' is often replaced by 'would you mind not,' and “I want this project today.” may be replaced by “if you wouldn't mind, could you submit the project today?”

Don’t use direct speech

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."

Since communication is often understated, avoid asking straightforward inquiries or you may receive a vague response. British individuals also use self-deprecation to avoid appearing blatantly proud; bragging about one's accomplishments is considered impolite in the United Kingdom.

Do’s and Don’ts of courtesy and humour in the UK workplace

Embrace the dry humour

Dry humour is well-established in British workplace culture and is frequently used to break the ice in a formal or stressful situation. However, irony and sarcasm are not often obvious since they are conveyed in a serious tone. 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.

Don’t take humour as a lack of respect

The British like to tease, so do not take their jokes too seriously or literally. Overseas professionals shouldn’t view the use of humour as a lack of respect or that the situation is not being taken seriously. Since the British are less inclined to complain about minor inconveniences, try to be patient with such issues as well.

Do’s and Don’ts of introducing changes

Take risks, go an extra mile

Another element of British culture that UK aspirants 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.

Don’t introduce new ideas bluntly

Though Britishers are always to new suggestions, informal changes are sometimes accepted reluctantly, so avoid bringing up new things bluntly without formalised agreements. Be patient and respect the established processes; for example, attempting to rush someone or disturb the established order is likely to go unappreciated.

Do’s and Don’ts of small talks

Value small talks in work settings

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. The usual small talk topics such as weather, sport and things to see and do in the city are all very acceptable.

Don’t get too personal

Navigating culturally acceptable small talk is one of the most difficult issues that international professionals confront when working in the UK. It is critical to keep things as impersonal as possible. Direct personal questions are not a safe bet — for example, it is not permissible to ask a woman if she has children, as this can be perceived as sexist. One should also avoid inquiring about someone's age or relationship status, as this is considered private information. Men should avoid making comments about a woman's appearance because this could be interpreted as sexual harassment.

Do’s and Don’ts of ‘going to the pub’

Socialise outside the house

Brits 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.

Don’t ignore the ‘rounds system’

The 'rounds' system is common in British pub culture, in which each individual takes turns buying everyone in the group a drink. Don't feel obligated to keep up with this rate of alcohol consumption; ordering sparkling water is quite appropriate, and it doesn't make a terrible impression.

Settling in a new nation with a foreign work culture can undoubtedly be time consuming and difficult. These Do's and Don'ts, and a little bit of reading into the UK workplace culture can help in gaining an idea of what to expect while working and how to gradually fit in.