UK Business Etiquette

Welcome to the UK!

Croeso i Gymru! (“Welcome to Wales!” in Welsh)

Fáilte go hÉirinn! (“Welcome to Ireland!” in Irish Gaelic)

Fàilte gu Alba! (“Welcome to Scotland!” in Scottish Gaelic)

Woah! That was a lot of warm welcomes! Ok, so this one can get a little bit tricky.  The UK is actually comprised of four separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  The first of these three make up the island known as Great Britain, and Northern Ireland is attached to the Republic of Ireland in the island known as Ireland. Make sense? Here’s a map for all you visual learners.

The UK is one of the most industrious countries in the world, even though it seems pretty small (about the size of the state of Colorado).  With gorgeous castles, cities such as London, Edinburgh, and Belfast, ancient ruins like Stonehenge, and incredible scenery, the UK is in the top ten of almost everyone’s travel wish list.  And if you’re lucky enough to go there on business, try to get away from the office for a bit to explore.  Before you go, let’s learn about the dos and don’ts of UK business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • Although the UK is made up of four separate countries, the citizens of the UK are referred to as British.
  • The UK might be small in size and surrounded by water, but in 2011 there was an estimated population of 63 million British citizens.
  • The two official languages are English and Welsh. Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are also spoken in the country, but over 90% speak English, so you probably won’t have any trouble communicating.
  • Rain is an ever-present feature of the islands’ climate. Although they experience all four seasons, the UK is known for its misty and rainy days.  Be sure to pack some rain-boots and an umbrella.
  • Driving in the UK can be confusing if you are coming from the US or continental Europe as the Brits drive on the left side of the road. Using a mobile device while driving is illegal (unless hands free), so make sure to pull over before you consult your GPS or phone a friend.

Dressing Sharp

  • Although the Scots are known for their traditional Kilts, they do not wear these in the workplace, and we agree that it’s best to leave the kilts at home for now.
  • The dress code varies depending on the business and company, but it is typically suggested to dress classical conservative in dark colors, such as black, blue and grey.
  • When in doubt, dress your best. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
  • Many businesses have adopted a casual Friday, but make sure to check with your host business partners. If you’re not sure about something, it’s always ok to ask.

Make or Break Meetings

Brits want to get right down to business in their meetings.  They like to have advanced notice, typically through an assistant, in order to work a business meeting into their schedule. They tend to circulate the agenda ahead of time so everyone is prepared, and they adhere to that agenda to make sure time is used effectively.

Because of this, it is expected that you arrive on time.  Make sure you leave enough time for travel as some of the cities can have traffic delays or be difficult to navigate.

Technology such as computers, projection equipment, and even video conferencing is used in many meetings.  These materials are expected to be requisitioned in advance and ready to use at the meeting.

Meetings are often recorded by a designated person typing the meeting minutes.  This is important for any decision making, and the documentation will be circulated after the meeting.

The British are more reserved in their greeting than in other parts of Europe; a light handshake and polite greeting is sufficient.  If you are in a large group of people, it is not expected to greet each person individually.

In negotiations, Brits want to know the facts and statistics in order to make their decision.  Personal connections or emotional persuasion will not do you any favors, neither will putting down your competition.

Dining Decorum

  • Business meals are often used for networking and business referrals, using professional social media sites such as LinkedIn and Eventbrite. Instead of talking business, you should take this time to build personal relationship, talk about informal topics and maybe learn more about the culture and history.
  • There are various meals throughout the day to be aware of when you are invited to eat: Breakfast is served until 11:30, then lunch takes over until 2:30. Brunch is sometimes served, combining breakfast and lunch menu items. After lunch, “tea” is served between 3pm and 6pm.  This is not just tea, but typically more of a meal consisting of smaller snacks and light sandwiches. Dinner is the predominant evening meal, before 8pm, and supper is a lighter meal in the late evening.
  • Some of these terms are used interchangeably or are different in various parts of the country. Make sure you clarify what time you are supposed to arrive at the meal.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift-giving is not a conventional part of business in the UK and many companies are prohibited from accepting a gift for legal reasons.
  • If you are given a gift, reciprocation is appropriate. Small and inexpensive gifts, such as stationary, flowers, or souvenirs from your home country are some examples of acceptable gifts.
  • Although the British don’t typically invite business colleagues into their home, if the occasion presents itself, it is appropriate to bring a bottle of wine or some chocolates.
  • Christmas gifts are not common, but it is appropriate to commemorate the holiday with a greeting card expressing your thanks for business.
  • One opportunity to give a more expensive gift is at the successful close of negotiations. Acknowledge the occasion with a gift in gold, silver or porcelain.

Down to Business

  • Brits like their personal space and privacy. Don’t get too close when speaking to them, and don’t ask personal or intimate questions.
  • There seems to be a general mistrust of younger managers deep rooted in British culture, so if you can, make sure to send someone more senior in the company.
  • Keep in mind the hierarchy of the company. Many companies value teamwork, but it is the senior manager who will make the decisions on business matters.
  • Avoid topics on religion or political matters, especially the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to the UK, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Goodbye!

Hwyl fawr! (Welsh)

Slán Abhaile! (Irish Gaelic, literally meaning “Safe Home”)

Beannachd leat! (Scottish Gaelic)