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November 30, 2017

Business culture in the United Kingdom is 'almost always on' compared to other European countries

In a previous blog series, we used international research to highlight how one’s geographic environment and culture affects his or her expectations in the workplace. We reported that Europeans are quite reserved when it comes to work-related changes, whereas employees in the Asia-Pacific region are the most optimistic.

Now it is time to consider those findings in the context of Planon employees throughout the world. Christine Houghton, UK Sales Director at Planon shares her views on this topic in the blog below, which is the first in our series: ‘The changing work environment’.

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Living in an ‘almost always on’ culture

One of the big differences between the UK and other European countries is that the UK has a business culture of “being busy”. During my visits to the Netherlands, I’ve noticed that it seems to be more usual to take a break, to sit down and have lunch. In the UK, however, the tendency is to dash out, grab something to eat and then return to your desk. Some organizations in the UK do have staff restaurants and employees benefit for that, but on the whole, in the UK we are more accustomed to working lunches at our desks. Of course, it does seem better and healthier to take some time out or have a break midway through the day, but generally the culture here is not to do that.

This is just one example of how we experience work in the UK, as in my opinion, we live in an 'almost always on’ culture. Senior employees, for example, are expected to be available some evenings too.

Here in the UK, we also notice that in the Netherlands it is quite common for Planon staff to work a four-day week out of choice. That is unheard of in the UK unless your job is officially classified as a part-time role. In the UK, we do see part-time working when a mother has a child under five as there is a legal requirement for a business to consider this option if the employee requests it. However, for the majority, a shorter working week is not really an option. On the other hand, we have more generous statutory benefits compared to our counterparts in some parts of Europe; for example, in the areas of maternity/paternity leave and sick pay. 

Working at home eliminates the ‘dead time’ of employee commuting

All of this appears to validate the ADP research in our previous blog that reported that Europeans look to have a clear line separating their work and their private life. The ‘almost always on’ culture need not always be bad for employees because it does mean more flexibility for people to work whenever they want to. Working from home is now extremely common for British employees. Management culture has shifted in the last fifteen years to a position where employees are trusted to work at home. This change has brought huge benefits, the most significant being the elimination of ‘dead time’ from employee commuting. The concentration of work in large cities coupled with a relatively large country means that commuting door to door for two hours each way every day is sadly quite normal in the UK.  Eliminating the wasted hours by working at home for a few days a week is great for the employee and the organization, along with an increase in productivity and wellbeing. On days when the employee does go to the office, he or she will invariably use a hot desk rather than having “their own”. Technology is playing a key part in this move towards flexible workspaces, with many organizations now providing staff with an app or portal to book a desk, workspace or meeting room in advance of their arrival.

Business culture in the United Kingdom is 'almost always on' compared to other European countries

Commuting can impact the way people work. For example, when driving you can make phone calls on the way to and from work, but normally that is generally before the start or at the end of the day which is another example of “almost always on”. For those who commute using public transport, overcrowding invariably puts a stop to productive work “on the go”.  Working at home provides a fantastic opportunity for the employee to be more productive and also to improve their work-life balance. One of the main enablers of the shift towards working at home has again been technology advancement, with the arrival of the internet into every home and onto every mobile phone being probably the single biggest gamechanger in recent years. In this way, technology has brought flexibility to the way we work, found in simple ways such as receiving email on your smartphone. Even the word “smartphone” now seems outdated as phones are expected to be smart – it has become the new baseline.    

Working smarter due to the potential of AI

Another example of the technology evolution is artificial intelligence (AI). Everywhere in the news we hear stories about how AI will potentially replace jobs. Will a robot or AI change our need to employ administrative staff or to perform administrative tasks ourselves? Some tasks can be automated by computers of course, but we still need to communicate with the robot for them to carry out a task, such as sending an email. We need to issue the command before the robot can act, because there is a limit to the robot’s thinking – at least for now. Maybe there will be the day when I will ask Alexa to reply to my emails – better still, will she be able to reply to them without even asking me first? Now that really would be using less energy to work! Not exactly my Amazon Echo replacing my job, but the possibility to work even smarter and more efficiently.

Christine Houghton
Sales Director Planon United Kingdom