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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: July 2013

Work Culture

Each business has its own specific work culture. However, there are certain traits that are common to most professional environments in the UK.

The British tend to be very polite and indirect in their communication style. In your country it might be perfectly acceptable to ask someone directly: “Where is Mr Smith’s office?”. In the UK such direct questions are often considered rude. The British would formulate it more politely, such as: “Excuse me, could you tell me where I can find Mr Smith’s office, please?”. They also formulate requests for actions indirectly, in the form of polite questions. It might take a while to master this communication style. However, when in doubt it is always better to add one too many modal verbs (could, would, might) and a “please” or two to your sentence.

Another essential element in British business circles is punctuality. Make sure to arrive to business meetings on time or a few minutes early and stick to agreed deadlines. If you notice you might be running late, make an advance phone call to inform your business partners / colleagues and apologise. When arranging meetings, it is also a good idea to do arrange these several days in advance.

In general, business meetings in the UK are structured and formal, yet not too stiff. It is common to shake hands at the beginning of the meeting and to exchange business cards. Usually there is also social conversation at the beginning and at the end of the meeting but you should avoid asking too personal questions.

Note also that the British tend to be very skilful at discussions and negotiations. They like to state facts and figures and are good at giving evasive answers to difficult questions. Another core ingredient of their communication style is the frequent use of the renowned British humour, containing elements of irony and understatement.

At work, teamwork plays an important role. However, initiative and individual accountability are also highly valued. Colleagues are usually on first name terms with each other but when you first join a team you should wait to be offered first name terms. Colleagues also tend to spend time together out of office, for example it is common to go to for lunch or to the local pub for after work drinks.

Finally, networking is an integral part of the British business culture. There are numerous business groups and professional associations in the UK. To read more on this, see: Business Groups, Associations and Networking.

Labour Market

The UK labour market was shaken by the financial crisis but has begun to stabilise over the past few months. The Office of National Statistics reports that the overall unemployment rate in the UK has decreased to 7.8% in the period February-April 2013. This represents a decrease by 88,000 from the previous year. Youth unemployment is also down by 1.2% points compared to the previous year but remains high overall, at 20.5%. Another sign of recovery is that the period February-April 2013 has seen the largest number of job vacancies announced since 2008.

Expats that find themselves unemployed in the UK may be entitled to receive the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). JSA is a form of unemployment benefit which is meant to help job seekers cover their living expenses while searching for work. It amounts to at least £56.80 per week. To be entitled to JSA you must be resident in the UK, aged 18 or over, able and available for work and actively seeking employment. For more information on eligibility and application procedures see: Jobseeker’s Allowance.

To read more about finding employment and writing applications in the UK see: Finding a Job, CVs, Interviews and Etiquette.

For more information on work conditions and immigration procedures for expat workers in the UK see Working for Expats in the UK.




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