Managing in the U.K.
Working in a Different Culture
If you've recently been asked to relocate to the United Kingdom, or you've just arrived, you might feel quite a bit of excitement. Working abroad can be a challenging, rewarding experience for many people. It can help expand your skills, and open unimagined doors to new opportunities.
But have you taken the time to understand the culture and work environment? If not, you might alienate yourself from your team without knowing why. It makes sense to learn as much as you can about the new culture to help ensure your success.
In this article, we'll examine what it's like to manage a U.K. team, and we'll offer tips for succeeding in this culture. Whether you're moving to the country to work full time, returning after a long break, or simply managing a U.K. team from abroad, these tips will help you make a smooth transition with your new team.
Remember that the U.K., like many other countries, has a diverse workforce; and workplaces vary from those in sleepy country towns to those in fast-paced global cities like London. Base your approach on your particular industry and team. Handle every situation on an individual basis, using your best judgment.
Imagine that you work for a large organization in the U.K., and someone on your team asks for additional training. Do you know that you might be breaking the law if you turn them down?
The United Kindgom has a very diverse workforce.
Before you start work, make sure you know U.K. employment laws, which are subtly different from those in many other Western countries. Here are a few key points to remember:
- Work weeks are usually 35-40 hours long. Generally, people aren't allowed to work more than 48 hours per week. They can opt out of this working time limit if they want to work more, but this must be voluntary, it must be done in writing, and these workers may cancel their opt-out at any time. (It's common for ambitious people to opt out. However, this is their choice.)
- Most people have the right to a break of at least 11 hours between working sessions.
- People in organizations with more than 250 workers have the legal right to ask for time for training if they feel they need it. Employers may only reject these requests for a range of specified "good business reasons".
Employment laws are strict in the U.K., and it's easy to make mistakes that can have serious negative consequences for your organization. If you are unsure about anything that could be affected by employment law, speak with your human resources department for clarification before you take action.
You can also get more information about U.K. employment law on the DirectGov website.
If you're coming from a country like the United States, you might be shocked at the amount of time your team is allowed for vacation. In the U.K., vacations are generally referred to as "holidays" or "annual leave."
The U.K. has a very generous holiday policy for workers. By law, companies must give full-time workers at least 28 days paid holiday entitlement per year. (These 28 days include "bank holidays" – see below.)
Some companies shut for one or two weeks in the summer months, although this is becoming less common. Many organizations are also closed on bank holidays. Employees are expected to take time from their holiday entitlement if their organization is closed on any of these days.
Bank holiday dates vary each year, and there are differences between England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. So make sure you check before scheduling meetings or projects.
U.K. bank holidays include:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- January 2 (Scotland only.)
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018; April 19 in 2019.)
- Easter Monday (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only) – Date changes each year (April 2 in 2018; April 22 in 2019.)
- Early May Bank Holiday – first Monday in May (May 7 in 2018; May 6 in 2019.)
- Spring Bank Holiday – Date changes each year (May 28 in 2018; May 27 in 2019.)
- Summer Bank Holiday – first Monday in August in Scotland, and last Monday in August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (August 6 in 2018; August 5 in 2019.)
- Christmas Day – December 25.
- Boxing Day/St Stephen's Day – December 26.
Although not "holidays," as such, there are also several "charity days" that are popular with U.K. organizations. On these days, people organize events at work or wear silly clothing to raise money for charity. Check with your team and organization to see what's normally done on these days.
Managers who work in the U.K. for the first time will find that many things are the same as in their own countries, and the business environment in major cities and companies is often very "international" in outlook. However, you may find that you have to take a different approach at times. Here are some tips that can help you manage your team more effectively:
Listen for "indirect" statements – People in the U.K. are often quieter, more restrained and diplomatic than workers in other countries, especially the United States. Don't expect your team to give feedback willingly, or immediately shout out their opinions. Many people won't be confrontational. If they do have something negative to say, they'll often find a positive way to say it.
For instance, instead of saying "I don't like that idea," they might say "That's a very interesting point, and I like what you're saying. But have you ever considered doing it this way…?"
So, listen for roundabout or indirect feedback, as well as for more direct and straightforward statements.
- Be careful with providing feedback – While some people in the U.K. are used to giving and receiving feedback freely, others are not. Be sensitive in the way that you provide feedback, and be aware that some people may be more upset by it than they let on.
- Have a sense of humor – People in the U.K. often use humor at the office. This doesn't mean that your team isn't taking things seriously; on the contrary, humor is used to relieve tension and keep the atmosphere light. Be honest about your mistakes, and don't take yourself too seriously. You'll be respected more for this.
- Be part of the group – Generally, U.K. managers have a closer, more personal relationship to their team than in many other countries. Managers are often respected for being a leader that teams can follow, rather than being the person with the most technical knowledge or expertise. When managing a team, you're expected to be part of the group, not just a distant "boss."
British office etiquette and customs have some differences compared with other countries.
For instance, if you make a drink, it's polite to ask other people in the office if they'd also like one. Sometimes, people take turns making "rounds" of drinks for the rest of the team, freeing up time for everyone else to get on with their work.
Privacy can also be important in the U.K. Be sensitive in the way that you ask people personal questions at work, and respect the fact that people may not want to talk about personal issues in detail.
In some offices, people are expected to bring in cakes or food on their birthday.
More Tips for Managing in the U.K.
Here are a few more points to remember when managing a U.K. team:
- In the U.K., people commonly refer to their calendars/planners as "diaries."
- People appreciate punctuality. If you're going to be late, call ahead.
- Work lunches, training, and job-related traveling counts as part of the "work week," so this time is often considered as working time.
- U.K. dates are written as day/month/year. In the United States and some other countries, the format is month/day/year. It's easy to get confused and miss key appointments, so remember this at all times!
- Meetings are often considered an open forum for discussion, so don't be surprised if your team consistently shows up "unprepared." People from the U.K. sometimes view meetings as a way to brainstorm and debate ideas, rather than to make firm decisions. So make the objectives of a meeting clear from the outset.
Working in the U.K. is similar to working in any Western country, but there are some important differences.
Learn about employment laws and vacation time to ensure that you don't violate work-week requirements, or schedule due dates when the organization will be closed.
As a manager, you're expected to be part of the team. Stay friendly, have a sense of humor, and remember that people in your team may sometimes be indirect about saying something negative.