UK Work Culture

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UK Work Culture

To succeed in business in the UK, it is vital for both employers and employees to have a strong understanding of the business culture. British business culture reflects modern and globalized Western society, which places importance on both the work and wellbeing of management and employees.

As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the British work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in the UK to start your expansion well-informed.

Work Culture in the UK

Punctuality, politeness, skillful and pragmatic negotiation, and humor are significant to the development of business relationships in the UK. Local businessmen place great importance in their relationships; thus, it is important to both you and your local business partners to treat business dealings with respect and great care.

  • Punctuality: In Britain, people make a great effort to arrive to meetings or events on time, but they have also formalized being a bit late (up to 10 minutes). If you are arriving late, it is best to inform the person or people you are meeting with.

  • Languages: English is the official language in the UK and is also the predominantly spoken language in the UK. It is unlikely that many people in the UK will speak other languages – even though the majority have had some language training at school.

    In the UK, many are not comfortable making mistakes in front of others so they may choose not to speak in other languages, but this does not mean that they do not understand them. Thus, knowledge of English is important for our business dealings, or the engagement of appropriate interpreting facilities.

  • Business Cards: Before or at the beginning of a meeting, associates typically exchange business cards. Business cards should display someone’s job, first name and surname. Academic titles are normally not included on a business card unless they are relevant to the person’s work.

  • Introductions/Greetings: The most common greeting in the UK is a handshake, which should be firm, but not too strong. In social settings, greetings are usually informal, and first names are used. In introductions, it is best not to ask too many questions, as this can be seen as prying. However, you should ask where they are from in the UK, so as to not mistake them from being English if they are Scottish, vice versa, etc.

  • Gift-giving: Gifts are typically only given on special occasions and tend to be opened in front of the giver upon being received or later along with other presents. They should not be of high monetary value and should reflect the person’s interests. Gifts such as wine and chocolate should also be given when visiting someone’s home.

  • Dress code: Dress codes in the UK are strict. Men wear suits, ties, and white, striped, or colored shirts and black shoes; whilst women wear suits (trouser or skirt) or dresses, often with high heels. However, many organizations have more casual clothing styles on a Friday.

  • Hierarchy: The vast majority of companies and organizations in Britain have a distinct hierarchy. British managers are firm, resolute and effective in their instructions, which often are expressed as polite requests, or even suggestions – their authority as decision-makers should also not be challenged.

    Class distinctions are also still present and important in British culture, although it is not directly obvious. Differences in social status such as manner of speech, dress, and behavior, as well as educational background and networks, also play a role in the workplace and their hierarchical structure.

  • Meetings: Meetings in the UK are time-consuming and set well in advance – and local businessmen prefer working with people that they know, relate to, or can identify with. So, an informal introduction before the meeting is preferential.

    Most meetings have a set agenda, and they typically begin with some icebreakers and small talk. Discussions in a meeting can be informal, and due to the task-oriented structure of meetings in Britain, each participant will usually leave with a specific task to carry out.

  • Negotiations: In the UK, local businessmen are skillful and tough negotiators, and follow a pragmatic approach in negotiations. Throughout negotiations, it is important to stay calm and polite. An informal and humorous tone may sometimes be used to disguise the seriousness of an issue being discussed.

    Agreements need to be formalized in writing, and it is rare for a commitment or agreement to be announced right away.

  • Communication: Humor is an integral part of the typical subtle communication that is experienced all across the UK. The British are known for their irony and humor – however, this runs the risk of non-native speakers misunderstanding their counterparts. Understatements and euphemisms are commonly used as a means to indirectly emphasize a point – for reasons of modesty, preventing embarrassment, or expressing criticism whilst remaining polite.

  • Socializing: British work culture involves the tendency to keep work and private lives separate. However, in most companies, colleagues like to socialize out of work, such as enjoying after-work drinks together on Fridays. Invitations to someone’s work are gestures of affection and sympathy and normally occurs when the relationship of business partners has progressed into a friendship.

UK Minimum Wage

All employees in the UK are entitled to receive at least the statutory minimum wage, which is split into two types, depending on your age and/or apprenticeship:

  1. National Living Wage – for employees aged 23 and over
  2. National Minimum Wage – for employees who are at least school-leaving age (16-18)

As of April 2021, these minimum wage rates apply:

  • Apprentice - £4.30
  • Under 18 - £4.62
  • 18 – 20 - £6.56
  • 21 – 22 - £8.36
  • 23 & over - £8.91 

Probation in the UK

There is no statutory probationary period in the UK, but the employer can implement one, which must be consented to by the employee. Most probationary periods are between 3-6 months.

An organization may also extend a probationary period to allow more time to assess the new employee’s suitability, but only if it forms part of the employment contract. If deemed necessary, the extension should then be set out in writing, which states:

  • the reasons for it
  • the matters which are to be tackled
  • setting targets
  • a revised probationary review date

Working Hours in the UK

The standard hours in the UK are at a minimum of 35 hours, and employees may not work more than 48 hours in a week (inclusive of overtime), which is normally averaged in a period of 17 weeks.

However, this does not apply for employees who are:

  • Working in workplaces where 24-hour shifting is required
  • Working in emergency services, police, or armed forces
  • Working in security and surveillance
  • Working as a domestic servant in a private household
  • Working as a seafarer or fishermen
  • In a senior position, where working time is not measured, and they are in control

Overtime in the UK

Normal working hours are the hours fixed according to the employment contract, whilst overtime is defined as the hours worked beyond the working hours.

Working hours, including overtime, cannot exceed 48 hours in a week. For overtime pay, employers are not obliged to pay employees a premium rate for overtime work, but the average pay for the total hours of work cannot be less than the National Minimum Wage.

Overtime pay rates and how they are worked should be included in the employment contract.

Notice period in the UK

In the case of employment termination, the employer is obliged to give the employee a notice period. There are statutory period notices which must be enacted, which depend on the employee’s length of service:

  • At least one week’s notice – between one month and 2 years
  • One week’s notice for each year – between 2 and 12 years
  • 12 weeks’ notice – 12 years or more

Notice periods may vary according to the sector and company, but they cannot go below the statutory periods.

Redundancy, Termination / Severance in the UK

In most cases, when an employee is dismissed, they are normally entitled to the same pay that would get if they worked through their notice period - which is known as ‘notice pay’. This payment must also include:

  • Annual leave they have not taken
  • Overtime payments
  • Bonuses
  • Money deducted for training courses

In cases of redundancy, payments are available for employees who have worked for their employers for at least 2 years, and the length of service is capped at 20 years.

The employee’s pay is their average that was earned per week over the 12 weeks before the day they received their redundancy notice. Redundancy pay also varies according to the employee’s age:

  • half a week’s pay for each full year worked when the employee was under 22 years of age.
  • one week’s pay for each full year when the employee was 22 and over, but under 41.
  • one and a half week’s pay for each full year when the employee was 41 or older.

Pension Plans in the UK

The pension system in the UK is two-pillar, with a statutory scheme known as a State Pension, that is funded by an employee’s National Insurance payments; and a supplementary pension, known as a Workplace Pension, that is set up by the employer.

For the State Pension, employees are eligible if they have made at least 10 qualifying years on their National Insurance record. One or more of these situations must also apply in the qualifying years:

  • the person was working and paid to National Insurance Contributions
  • the person was receiving National Insurance credits if they were unemployed, ill, a parent of a carer
  • the person was paying voluntary National Insurance Contributions

For the Workplace Pension, this voluntary scheme which is set up by an employer. With this type of pension, a percentage of the employee’s pay is withheld and deposited into the pension scheme every payday, as well as an additional contribution by the employers. Tax reliefs from the government may also be added to this pension scheme, if eligible.

Public Holiday in the UK

There are 8 public holidays in England, Wales, and Scotland:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Monday
  • Early May Bank Holiday
  • Spring Bank Holiday
  • Summer Bank Holiday
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

In Northern Ireland, there are 10 public holidays. If a bank holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute weekday becomes the holiday – normally the following Monday. Certain holidays in England and Wales, however, are not in Scotland and vice versa.

In the UK, employers are not obligated to be give employees leave pay on bank holidays. However, they may choose to include bank holidays as part of an employee’s statutory annual leave.

Sick Leave in the UK

Employees are entitled to sick leave, as well as a Statutory Sick Pay if they are not able to work for 4 or more consecutive days. The weekly rate for this pay is £96.35 and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.

Statutory Sick Pay is paid by the employer and is not recoverable from the government. Employers also cannot ask employees to contribute towards their sick leave payments.

If the employee has regular periods of sickness, these periods may count as ‘linked’. This, however, can only be eligible if the periods:

  • Last 4 or more days each
  • Are 8 weeks or less apart

Vacation / Holiday in the UK

Employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days of paid annual leave per year. An employer can also choose to include bank holidays as part of the employee’s annual statutory leave.

Maternity/Paternity Leave in the UK

Pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, which is split into two types of leave:

  1. Ordinary Maternity Leave – the first 26 weeks of leave
  2. Additional Maternity Leave – the last 26 weeks of leave

The earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. Employees are not obliged to use all 52 weeks of their maternity leave, but they must take two weeks’ leave once the baby is born.

Pregnant employees are also entitled to a statutory maternity pay (SMP) if they have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks and meet minimum earning requirements. Maternity Pay is currently set at 90% of the employee’s average earnings for the first six weeks of maternity leave, or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the next 33 weeks.

For paternity leave, eligible employees can take 2 consecutive weeks of within a period of 56 days, which begins with the date of the child’s birth in blocks of a week at a time.

If the employee is already on parental leave, they are not entitled to paternity leave. The employee’s eligibility includes 26 weeks of continuous service, be expectant of the responsibility for the upbringing of a child, and be the biological father of the child, or married to/the civil partner of the child’s mother.

The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £151.97 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings.

Bonus in the UK

Employee bonuses may be given both at the discretion of the employer, or as based on defined performance criteria that are written into the employment contract.

Common discretionary bonuses include the annual holiday bonus, which is given to employees at the end of the year.

Car allowance UK if applicable

Car allowance depends on the sector and company, as well as the position of the employee.

A mileage allowance for cars is common practice in the UK, with benefits or subsidies on maintenance depending on what the employer may wish to offer to the employ. In some cases, car allowance is also taxed.

Clauses for car allowance should also be included in the employment contract.

Bradford Jacobs as your trusted partner

To expand into the UK fruitfully, an understanding of the local business culture is vital for your business’ success. With Bradford Jacob’s expertise and knowledge of employment through our Professional Employment Organization (PEO), as well as our experience with UK customs, law, compliance, and tax regulations, we can assure the recruitment of the right people to make your expansion goals a reality. Contact us today to find out more!