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Saturday, 2nd December 2023




Organisational culture can be daunting. It requires employees to act and behave in certain ways, and it therefore helps if you did know something about the British work culture before you start that new job. So here goes:

I have worked for British organisations for many years, and I first came to this country at the age of eighteen, going straight to University. At no point did I go through any orientation - and I did find it difficult to integrate when I first started work. So here are my very personal tips:

  • Be polite and diplomatic
  • Observe the discipline of time - puncutality is critical.
  • Be clear about when you will return a phone call or complete a task and let your boss know in advance if you encounter delays - this shows that you care about your work and do not wait for reminders.
  • Be aware of employment legislation, especially in terms of discrimination as these could result in personal liability
  • Work hard and efficiently, and try to 'hide' your identity or not make it a big issue initially, unless it is an organisation which positively welcomes and embraces difference. There is a strong pressure to 'fit in' in British work culture.
  • Drinking is a very important part of work culture in Britain, and in my experience, a lot of gossip and decisions are taken over a pint. Know that this happens, and if you do not drink, you could be at a disadvantage. However, if you explain why you do not drink, you may be accepted more, and your colleagues may (rarely) even respect you by not drinking when they are with you.
  • Try not to outshine your bosses and also never challenge them, especially in front of others
  • Be prepared to give up credit for work done
  • Staff reviews are important meetings, so make sure that what is written down is fair and if it is not, be careful to raise it then, because the records could later be used against you. Also use the review to ask for certain types of experience and personal development over the next six months, and put this on record. You have to be careful to master the tightrope between your interests and those of the organisation. Always remain pro-active about your personal development and career progression.
  • Stay informed about other departments and wider aspects of your organisation, and constantly network with different parts to get your face known. Also network outside your workplace to know what else is available. If you are too tied to a company, it can be very hard to leave or when you are made redundant, to take the pressure.
  • Try not to be 'too loyal' to the organisation and look after your own interests as well. Unfortunately, organisations have very short memories, and loyalty can be seen as a desire for promotion and power, which is often perceived as a threat. Also, you will get badly hurt when the organisation chooses not to promote you or recognise your achievements. Even worse, there are cases when the smartest ethnic professionals are the first to be dismissed or made redundant - so be watchful.
  • Watch people's actions, as they can often be different from their words. The actions are what count.
  • Overtime will often be required, and is generally unpaid for professionals. Try to keep a work-life balance, and dont make the mistake of thinking that the only way to progress is to work long hours consistently. Your health is your wealth - dont lose it.
  • There is often a strong hierarchy, and juniors can be treated as work-horses, so be careful and if you do work hard, make sure you are building your skills and CV at the same time, not just helping your bosses. There is often a managerial culture where you have to work long hours because your bosses did that when they started - it is their way of exacting revenge.
  • There is a strong long hours culture in Britain - work performance is equated with quantity not quality. You may be expected to stay in late - even for the sake of it. Be careful about this, and ensure that your health is not compromised.

Article added on 10th December 2009 at 1:59pm