British work culture

This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!

Facts and Figures

There are about 3.7 million businesses in the UK.

About 75% of British jobs are in service industries – hotels, restaurants, travel, shopping, and computer and finances. It is our fastest growing business and employs over twenty million people.

The working day/week

The usual working day starts at 9am and finishes by 5pm. Most people work a five-day week. The working week is, on average, the longest of any country in Europe. In 1998 a new law was passed saying that workers do not have to work more than 48 hours a week if they don’t want to. However, about 22% of British workers do work more than a 48-hour a week. However, on the whole everyone is out of the office early on Fridays and no one would dream of coming to work on Saturdays.

British employers must give their workers four weeks paid holiday a year.

The tea break

Frequent tea breaks are the bane of office productivity.

One strange custom requires you to ask everyone around whether they’d like tea or coffee whenever you go to get some for yourself. Often people will try and wait each other out so that they can avoid this chore.

The tea break is so famous there is even a song about it:-

Featured in Buchanan’s 1935 comedy film, “Come Out Of The Pantry” (Goodhart / Hoffman / Sigler) Jack Buchanan

Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
France is famous for its wine, it’s beer in Germany
Turkey has its coffee and they serve it blacker than ink
Russians go for vodka and England loves its tea

Oh, the factories may be roaring
With a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee
But there isn’t any roar when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom

/> In the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help ’em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

It’s a very good English custom
Though the weather be cold or hot
When you need a little pick-up, you’ll find a little tea cup
Will always hit the spot

You remember Cleopatra
Had a date to meet Mark Anthony at three
When he came an hour late she said “You’ll have to wait” For everything stops for tea

Oh, they may be playing football
And the crowd is yelling “Kill the referee!”
But no matter what the score, when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, the golfer may be golfing
And is just about to make a hole-in-three
But it always gets them sore when the clock yells “four!”
Everything stops for tea

It’s a very good English custom
And a stimulant for the brain
When you feel a little weary, a cup’ll make you cheery
And it’s cheaper than champagne

Now I know just why Franz Schubert
Didn’t finish his unfinished symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
And everything stopped for tea


“Meetings – where you take minutes and waste hours.”

Generally a meeting scheduled for one hour always lasts one hour.

The objectives of a meeting are spelled out at the onset and the communication is so clear and simple that the discussion hardly ever meanders.

For formal meetings there is a chair and a secretary. The chair is in charge of the meeting and the secretary takes the minutes.

An amusing saying is, “A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted”.

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