Differences between UK and American work culture

Major differences between how Americans and Brits work

This article was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 10 March 2022.

From language to culture, the US and UK have a lot in common. But there are also a few key differences that could be a shock to Americans looking to work in the UK. Maybe you have been studying in the UK as an American, so now how can you fit in or really shine in the UK workplace? Our handy guide is here to help you understand the key differences. 

1. Communication style

British people are known to be quite understated, sarcastic and even a little cynical, which is the complete opposite to Americans, who tend to brag or talk up their own achievements. In this way, an American who comes into a UK office with a brash or overbearing demeanour may not see the best results.  

2. Travel times

Americans can expect the travel time to and from work to quadruple when working in the UK. According to Foothold America, the average American spends 23 minutes travelling to and from work each day, while Brits spend one hour and 38 minutes. This is probably because a lot of people live outside big cities like London, Manchester, Cardiff or Glasgow and have to travel each day. 

3. Sick leave

In the US, workers are not entitled to sick leave unless they have a competitive package for it at work. Meanwhile, in the UK sick leave is a legal right and it’s called Statutory Sick Pay. It is accrued over the duration of your employment so you’ll need to be working a certain amount of time before you can take it. Legally, you’re entitled to £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks. This figure could be even more if your company has a competitive benefits package. 

4. Holiday leave

Paid annual leave is a legal right for full-time workers in the UK, who are entitled to at least 28 days paid holiday leave (this is the equivalent of 5.6 weeks of holiday entitlement, not including weekends). Employers may also choose to offer additional days of holiday for their employees. 

5. Maternity/paternity leave

Workers in the UK are legally entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, starting up to 11 weeks before their child’s due date. You can get up to 39 of these weeks paid, known as Statutory Maternity Pay. You’re entitled to 90% of your average income in the first six weeks of your maternity leave, then £151 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks. Many companies have benefits packages that pay more, though.

6. Language

While we both speak English, keep in mind the UK is slightly different. Adapt your language from the American spelling to the British spelling. This means changing words like ‘analyze’ to ‘analyse’ or ‘color’ to ‘colour’. The language is also slightly different when it comes to talking about workplace ideas. For example, instead of American phrases like ‘blue sky thinking’ or ‘thought shower’, try ‘creative thinking’ or ‘brainstorm’. 

7. Working week

You’ll rejoice to find out the average full-time working week is slightly shorter in the UK. The US average is 40 hours, while the UK standard is 37.5 hours. More time to go to the pub

8. You can’t be fired on the spot

The UK has a much more stringent policy when it comes to employers firing employees, so it’s virtually impossible to do so (unless you’re violent or are sent to prison). All employees must receive at least one week’s notice before being made redundant. This notice period can be longer, depending on how long you’ve worked in the company. For example, if you’ve worked full-time in the company for six years, you’ll get six weeks notice. The maximum amount of weeks is 12.

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