What to Expect on the Job
Contracts and Hours
On average, you can expect to sign a job contract stating your working hours are 37.5 per week and that you will be paid monthly. Also you will, again on average, be allowed a minimum of twenty-five days of holiday/vacation, in addition to national bank holidays including Christmas, New Year’s, etc.
People often ask if we work less hours here compared to the US and I would have to say, generally speaking–probably–although I worked less hours back home. (I work in the web/digital field and it often means late evenings at work, even in Europe!) We do get more time off here, and we’re actually encouraged to take it, as opposed to the US where you’re made to feel lazy if you take more than five days off in a row.
All of this is of course dependent on how junior or senior you are, which industry you work in, how big or small your office is, etc. But what you can usually count on is that you will sign a job contract that will state your salary, working hours, your number of holiday days, which date per month you are paid as well as what your notice period is should you resign. Since most people are paid once per month, notice periods are four weeks, not the two weeks we know back home. If you are senior, this can be longer (three months). If you resign to work for a competitor, you are often asked to leave immediately (what’s called “gardening leave“) but you’re still paid as if you worked your final weeks.
You can negotiate your contract, same as you would back home. Again, depending on how junior or senior you are, you will have varying success negotiating for a better contact.
In California, there is a labor law pertaining to exempt and non-exempt employees, where non-exempt get paid for overtime hours. THIS DOES NOT EXIST HERE! I have worked so much overtime and not been paid for it, as it has been in many of my contracts that “Some amount of overtime hours may be required and will not be compensated” or some madness like that.
I sometimes have to remind myself why I’m here. I love England, I love England, I love England…
Drinking After Work is OK!
I write about drinking culture in the EAT > Drinking section of this site, but it’s worth mentioning here that a big part of socialising in the workplace involves drinking after work, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. You don’t have to worry too much about “looking bad” if you have a few too many drinks, although I’ve never seen any of my bosses get sh*tfaced in front of their employees (just the employees do this).
You’ll find this out soon enough but at work, people talk about drinking all of the time. I do not exaggerate. All week long, talking about drinking, being drunk, falling alseep on the train home and missing their stop because they were so drunk…
I say English don’t judge people by the amount that they drink, but there was once instance where a woman at work was visibly drunk ON THE JOB. It was after lunch, maybe around 3pm, and she began shouting at people in meetings, calling them “boring” and she had to be escorted out of the office. This wasn’t considered an acceptable time to be drunk, so there are limits here. You are expected to be able to keep it together and being drunk on the job is NEVER ok.
After work? An absolute requirement.
You’re Not in America Anymore
I cannot count the number of times I’ve overheard someone at work casually make a derogatory comment about Americans. In fact, I can think of examples of this at all three of my jobs. But I simply don’t get it: I don’t think there was ever a time at any job I had in San Francisco where were sat around ragging on the English! Why are Americans on the minds of average, working English citizens all of the time, and really, why do they care enough that they will sit around on a random Thursday afternoon at work and make some insulting comment?
I have a lot of theories on why but rather than dwell on it, I usually just tell myself that those who would make such comments really don’t know anything about what they are saying.
I once answered the phone at Job Number Two with a “Hello” followed by the name of our agency. It was one of the partners of the agency calling in. He repeated my phone greeting, mimicking my accent, and then said, “That had to be the most middle-American accent I’ve ever heard.” He clearly didn’t understand how to use the term “middle-America” and probably meant to attach some kind of “You’re so typically American,” meaning to it. I replied with, “That’s funny because I’m from California, which isn’t in the middle.” I.e. You don’t know what the fudge you’re talking about, do you?
At Job Number Three, there was a conversation about fashion and New York, and then it led to people snickering about the lack of fashion sense of people—in Ohio! I remember thinking Why are we, in London, insulting Ohio? What do any of you know about Ohio?!
Oh, I could go on and on. But what I really want to get at here is: people pretty much say whatever they want in UK offices, in London at least. The laws we have in the US protecting against racism, sexism, ageism, etc. do not exist here. Bigger companies might say they do, but it’s not enforced as aggressively as it is in the US. I’ve heard countless racist, sexist, nationalist comments at all of my jobs here, two of which are big players in the UK retail sector, just simply sitting at my desk.
There was a certain element that at first was refreshing, I have to admit. It is definitely possible to go overboard with the threat of sexual harassment or declaring someone racist. But now I just see it as shameful. It’s astonishing to me what people will say, in front of someone who would be offended by it, loudly and proudly, as if they rule the world.
Perhaps it’s because once upon a time, they did.
So while working in London may be fabulous, you may find some of your new colleagues can create a hostile environment for you, with or without meaning to, sometimes subtly, sometime blatantly. This is just something to be aware of before going in, so that you will perhaps be less shocked and disappointed as I was.
I’m not at all saying working in the UK is always like this or that all of the people are this way, because that absolutely not true: of every person or every place. But it’s a very real thing that rears it’s ugly head now and then and I want to make sure you understand you’re not imagining things or taking things too seriously if you notice it.
This is one of those cultural differences where speaking the same language does nothing to help us understand what any of us are actually saying.
[I should mention that my husband also works in London and says he hasn't had the same experience I have. However, he works for a company with big US connections and relationships, and working with the US office is a big part their daily operations. I, on the other hand, have worked at the head office of two major UK retailers and one small web agency, none of which have any American relationships or connections with other countries for that matter.]