Friday, 24 May 2013

Culture Shock of the British Workplace

...or maybe just my British workplace.

I've been at my job for just over 2 months now and I must admit that when I started, I wasn't entirely prepared for the cultural differences between American and British offices.  Granted, I only have experience in one of each so I am generalizing x1,000,000, but based on my conversations with other interns with different work placements, a lot of things seem to be similar across the board.

For one thing, time is much more relaxed here.  That meeting that starts at 10:00?  Don't bother leaving your desk until 10:05 unless you want to sit in the meeting room alone for a while.  And the appointment you scheduled at 9:00 with one other person is just as likely to happen at 2:00 as it is at 9:00 because schedules are fluid and frequently change.  I've actually adapted to the change rather well which is as surprising to me as it probably is to any of you who know my schedule-loving nature.

People in the workplace are polite to a fault.  If you're in a meeting and you spout a load of rubbish, it's extremely rare that someone will call you on it.  Everyone will smile and nod and say "OK" rather than being direct and calling bull.  I've been a part of a few (very few) meetings where people have been more direct and gotten to the point, and after each one someone has apologised to me because they're "sorry [I] had to hear that."  It surprises me every time because in my mind, that's just how meetings are.  The whole overly-polite approach has been challenging for me.  I keep fairly quiet in these meetings because I'm afraid of being too direct and being perceived as rude.  I haven't worked out the right balance yet, but I'm working on it.

Speaking of being polite, co-workers and even managers will compliment you when you haven't earned it.  I feel like that's the complete opposite of the American office.  I've turned in reports here where I'm told I've done a really great job, but then get the copy back with edits up and down the page.  I'm thankful for the edits and happy to make the changes because I want the end product to be the best it can be, but I could do without the "great work" pep-talk when the work isn't great.  I'd rather be complimented when the work really is great so I know the feedback is genuine.

Technology is not a priority here.  I was shocked when I showed up for my first day of work and discovered that I would be using Microsoft Office 2003.  That software is a decade old.  I was still in high school when this software was relevant.  I feel so clumsy using it because you lose so much functionality when you downgrade from the newer versions.  Especially in Excel.  I used to know a decent number of Excel tricks, but they simply don't exist in the 2003 version (or they're a LOT harder to execute).  Outlook is the same way.  The first time I sent out a calendar invite I had to delete it right away because the default date was in the past.  Seriously?!?!  The calendar software couldn't figure out I wasn't planning a meeting for 3 days ago?  It assumes I want to schedule this meeting for Monday of this week, even though it's already Thursday?  Who designed Microsoft Office 2003 and what on earth were they thinking?

Cultural Awareness is a priority here.  It's really cool to see how people think in terms of working with other countries.  I think in America we focus very inwardly, whereas here people focus very outwardly.  The proximity of so many European countries almost demands it, especially in a business sense.  Perhaps it's the same for international organizations based in America, but I would be surprised if you saw it to the same extent.

Without a doubt, work-life balance is better here.  Employees get lots of annual leave, plenty of bank holidays, generous maternity and paternity leave, extended leave options, and so on and so on.

I'm still adjusting to the nuances of the British office, but it's an exciting change.  I like the feel of the workplace in London.  I'm very fortunate that I enjoy the work I'm doing and the team that I get to work with.  It's the exact opposite of the position I held in the states at the exact opposite type of organization (i.e., from an outwardly focused role to an internally focused one, from a small organization to a giant one, from a local non-profit organization to an international corporation), so I'm thankful that this proved to be a good fit.  It's an amazing opportunity to get to see both ends of the spectrum.  The hard part is deciding which one I like better when it's time for me to settle down after my year is over...

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