From Boston to Buckingham: Raise Your Glasses to British Office Culture

I began my internship this semester feeling more nervous about adapting to my responsibilities than about adapting to the work culture in London. Over the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to complete two other agency internships, so when I arrived at Higginson Strategy, work culture was the last thing I was worried about. However, now that I’m about to start my third week of my placement, I can say with confidence—and a little embarrassment—that I had my priorities a little out of order.

So far, the tasks I’ve been given haven’t been entirely dissimilar to my previous positions. I’ve been researching, creating media lists, making follow-up calls, and monitoring the news on a regular basis, along with various other administrative tasks. I feel that my past jobs have prepared me well for all these tasks, but there are a few things about this particular placement in which I was certainly not well versed, and they all have to do with the work culture.

On Fridays, I am repeatedly reminded of the stark differences between British and American drinking culture that permeate the office.

Our floor’s kitchen has beer on tap, so everyone usually has a half-pint around 4 or 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, before we finish up at 5 p.m. During my second week, seeing that I still found this a little amusing, my boss asked if people drank at the office in the States. I explained that, in my experience, my offices would certainly have a drink during a company outing or to celebrate an accomplishment, but this would almost never take place in the physical office itself, or during typical working hours. Given that Americans aren’t perceived as particularly reserved here, I can imagine that this revelation was probably a little strange to my British colleagues.

The other beverage-related lesson that I learned had to do with tea, of course.

One day, I was asked to make tea for someone my supervisor was interviewing. Knowing the importance of getting tea right around here, I asked if our guest had wanted anything in it, and I was told that they had asked for sugar. Easy enough, I thought to myself, there’s no way you can get this wrong.

My naiveté has never been more evident. After the interview, my colleagues returned to the office, chuckling, and commented on my “interesting” tea. Not only had I left the teabag in (a rookie mistake, even for an American—it was a chaotic morning), I had neglected to add milk. I looked at my colleagues in disbelief, explaining that they had only told me to add sugar. To my mortification, they kindly explained that milk is always implied when it comes to tea in the UK.

Lesson learned.

In addition to learning how to properly make tea and pour a beer from a tap, the office beverages have also taught me something else about the UK work culture. Nearly every time one of my colleagues goes to make themselves a tea or a snack, they always ask if anyone else in the office would like anything. I’ve discovered that I don’t just work with extraordinarily generous people—I do—but this is actually the norm.

In the States, everyone is always friendly, but office culture tends to be a little more independent. We go about our tasks and ask for help if we need it, but that’s the extent, at least in my experience. Here, I’ve noticed that my colleagues check in with each other more and are always looking for ways to help each other out. This is a shift that I’ve really appreciated, especially in our small office. It helps me feel more included, and I hope to follow the lead of my supervisors and do whatever I can to help them throughout the day.

After all, that’s my job, and that’s what I love about working in PR: helping people be the best they can be.

 

 

Claire Doire, Study Abroad Correspondent

Claire Doire is a junior at Boston University studying Public Relations with a minor in Political Science. She hails from Middletown, Rhode Island and is currently studying abroad in London: the home of her wordsmithing hero, William Shakespeare. Back in Boston, Claire spends her free time dancing, acting, and working hard to one day become her own version of The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg.

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