The study abroad program that I am enrolled in is offered through the University of Florida’s Business College, and given that I am a business student, I had the unique opportunity of being eligible for applying. Warrington’s program differs from normal study abroad programs because not only do students take classes abroad, but they also hold a place as an intern at a local London company. The international work experience I gain will greatly set me apart from my competitors when I enter the workplace, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Even though I have just started the internship portion of the cirriculum, I have already noticed a number of differences between the UK work environment compared to the typical US workplace behaviors that I am accustomed to. I thought I could share those differences here, so that I could possibly provide advice to future students coming to work abroad. To begin, there seems to be a clear difference in work-life balance tendencies in each nation.
American workers tend to have the stigma of being more dedicated and loyal to their employer than workers in the U.K, and Brits tend to put in fewer work hours. In addition to physical office hours, the average vacation (or holiday) for a US employee is less than two weeks per year, whereas the average UK holiday is around four weeks annually, which further shows their favor or life rather than work in the balance of things.
Even though both nations speak English, there can be many variations in phrasing and terminology that can lead to misunderstandings. For example, Brits have the tendency to phrase task assignments as suggestions. A supervisor in the UK may ask an intern “could you get to this project by the end of the day if you have time?”
To an American, this may come across as soft deadline that varies depending on your own schedule, but more than likely the supervisor in this situation would be expecting the project to be finished by the end of the day regardless.Two additional social differences I identified are manner of speaking and small talk.
Brits have the stereotype of having dry, sarcastic senses of humor. An American may react to this form of bluntness as rude when it’s not actually intended that way. Another staple UK office habit is to be invested in your colleagues’ personal lives. Going hand in hand with work-life balance, Brits are known for creating friendships within the office and catching up on weekend plans or personal stories is not frowned upon like it may be in the US.
There are numerous other comparisons that could be made about the cultural differences in the workplace between these two countries, and I advise to anyone that is considering working abroad to take the time to learn about the norm behaviors of the place where you will be working, because knowing how to adapt to new cultures is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur and/or getting the most out of your abroad working experience.