If you’re relocating to the UK, be sure to make a great first impression by avoiding any of these UK business etiquette faux pas.
Do: Use formal greetings
The way you greet a British person is paramount for creating an admirable first impression.
Greetings in UK business tend to remain rather formal at first. If you are meeting someone for the first time, avoid using their first name until they give you permission. Start by referring to men as “Sir” or “Mr”, and women as “Ma’am”, “Miss”, “Mrs” or “Ms”. If you are unsure whether a woman is married or not, it would be your safest bet to refer to her as “Ms”. British people are known to have a dry sense of humour, and so these titles will usually be met with a smirk and permission to call them by their first name.
When greeting someone in person, shaking hands is a standard practice. However, this will probably not go down well during a pandemic, so avoid this for the time being.
Do: Be punctual
You may have heard the idiom “manners maketh man”. This implies that a person is judged on their behaviour towards others. This saying originated in the UK and simply amplifies the importance of manners in British culture.
While your greeting is one way to show you have manners, another, if not more important aspect is punctuality. Always arrive on-time for your meetings, preferably even five minutes early. This will ensure that you make a good impression and start the meeting off on a positive note. If you are going to be late, you should have a compelling reason. Be sure to call well-ahead of time to inform the relevant parties of your lateness and give an indication as to what time you will arrive.
Lastly, if your meeting is expected to last for a specific period of time, you should stick to it. For example, if you’ve scheduled your meeting to last for one hour, it should end after one hour as meeting attendees may need to get somewhere else. This will show your consideration for another’s time.
Do: Be considerate of your employer by making sure all your admin is in place
Bear in mind that opening a UK bank account can take longer than in many other countries, so plan accordingly.
Don’t: Be inconsiderate with meetings
It is preferable to set meetings at least a few days in advance if possible. You should also communicate the meeting objectives ahead of time. The British are generally quite straightforward and to-the-point – discussions will rarely veer off-topic.
When in a meeting, you should introduce each person in order of their position ranking from highest to lowest. Business card exchanges often occur once the meeting is over, however, it can also take place at the start. Not everyone will have business cards or carry ones with them, so don’t take it personally if you don’t receive one.
Do: Respect personal space
British folk value their personal space. Respect other participants’ need for personal space by keeping a fair distance when in conversation. Make eye contact to show that you are listening and interested in what the other person has to say, especially when they are making an important point. Remember, there is a fine line between making sufficient eye contact and staring.
Do: Observe proper email etiquette
The same way of greeting should be applied in emails as in person – start by formally addressing the recipient with a relevant title. If the email is very formal, start by using “Dear”. If it is less formal, a “hi” will do suffice.
Always end your email in a polite manner using a standard line such as “kind regards”, “regards”, “many thanks” or the likes thereof.
If you want to be taken seriously in the UK, be sure to use the correct British spelling. It is always useful to spell-check your email with a spell-checker tool before sending it. You’ll be able to find a
number of such tools on the internet.
See also: https://www.sableinternational.com/blog/expats-guide-to-life-in-uk
Don’t: Order people about
British people value courtesy. In the UK, instructions are often disguised as polite requests. If someone wishes to dismiss your idea, they will often say that they might look to consider it at a later stage. You will become more familiar with these subtle and courteous mannerisms over time.
Do: Err on the side of formal attire
Your expected work attire will depend on your profession. While many corporate firms have become more lenient in their dress codes, others still require more traditional business wear.
If your company permits a “smart-casual” dress code, you’ll be able to wear a combination of business and casual clothes such as a formal shirt, jeans and smart shoes.
If your company is more traditional, it may still have a smart dress code, in which case men should wear a dark coloured suit and women a similarly smart suit or dress.
If you’re unsure, rather play it safe by arriving at work overdressed rather than underdressed. The effort will be seen as a sign of respect and will be appreciated.
Don’t: Give ostentatious gifts
Corporate gift-giving is not common in the UK unless given as a “thank you”, once a project is complete, at an event, or to mark a special occasion. Such gifts should not be inappropriately expensive and are usually small or symbolic items such as pens, diaries, product hampers or bags.
Do: Socialise with your colleagues
After-work drinks tends to be standard practice in the UK. You won’t be obligated to buy a round, but if you do, it will work in your favour. If you don’t, expect to have a few light-hearted, self-depreciating jokes fly your way. Don’t take it to heart, it’s simply British humour at play - at least you’ll grow to have thick skin.
Client lunches are also a common occurrence. If you take a client or potential client out for entertainment, you should offer to pick up the tab – it’s the courteous thing to do.
If you’re ever invited to a colleague’s home, or any British person’s home for that matter, it is always received well if you arrive with flowers, chocolate or wine for the hosts.
There are many more things to consider before you make the UK your new home. We've put together a guide to life in the UK encapsulating just about everything you'll need to know.
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