I’ve been working in London for more than two years now and have fully adapted to the British office environment. Working with English people is very different from anything I’ve experienced before and it’s a complete opposite to work culture in Russia, the country where I come from. For those who are considering working in England, here are some distinguishing features of the British workplace.
No such thing as fines
This might not come as a surprise to you because in the EU and US workers don’t get fined in a workplace. Yet, for me, it was a massive shock since in Russia employers are allowed to make deductions from your salary for various misconduct. So I was pleased to know that here, in England, I wouldn’t receive my payslip with a hundred pounds missing because I’d done something wrong. You can get sued, however, if you steal intellectual property or quit without notice. Although the law is on the employees’ side most of the time, it won’t be in your favour if you’ve breached the employment contract.
If you are rubbish at small talk, owing to your shy demeanour, then there’s some work to be done before entering the British workplace. All you really need is to nail the basics of English small talk and be willing to initiate and maintain a conversation.
When I first stepped into a British office I felt slightly scared despite everyone being very smiley, friendly and chatty. My manager said that small talk was vital here and I should talk to people in the kitchen, lift and at every opportunity. As always, I took her instructions very seriously and in half a year I excelled at small talk. Although I do still struggle to participate in large-group conversations or mingling, which are very common in England. In fact, my first mingling experience at work was super awkward. You must know the feeling when you just want to disappear into the woodwork, this is how awkward it was. Now I am much more confident at striking up a conversation not only with my colleagues but complete strangers too.
People here are very friendly. In fact, they are genuinely nice and supportive without coming across as artificial. Of course, the level of friendliness will vary depending on the industry. I work in the fashion industry which is very competitive, fast-paced and at times ruthless. This also applies to other competitive professions such as PR, Law, Politics, Recruitment etc. Luckily my company still has a family feel to it and does its best at making people feel appreciated.
Overall, my advice is not to jump at the first opportunity offered unless you really need work. Start your job hunt by researching the company and reading employees’ reviews.
Funnily enough, having come from a heavy drinking culture I don’t like drinking. Well, I just don’t enjoy the taste of alcohol unless it’s an alcoholic cocktail or champagne with a price tag over £30 (which I wish I could buy without breaking the bank). And this is exactly what you shouldn’t say to your British colleagues. Drinking here is a social activity which enables people to open up, get closer and perhaps build friendships as a result. Many employers encourage drinking by providing alcoholic beverages at companies’ social events or on a Friday when the workday is nearly over.
On Thursdays and Fridays London pubs are swarming with people from nearby offices. Interestingly, this English tradition of going to the pub goes back as far as the Middle Ages. The pub quiz (aka trivia night in America) was introduced to help attract more people during quieter nights. Established in the 1970s, the pub quiz still remains an important part of the British culture. As far as pub quizzes go, I haven’t been to one yet, shame on me.
And lastly, never be late for work. The UK are one of the most punctual nations in the world and your English employer won’t tolerate such a lax approach to work. However, the one and only ‘excuse’ they will accept is a train delay as these are common here. Otherwise, you are in real trouble.