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What’s it like working in the U.K.

The first thing to note is that the U.K. is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The U.K. is one of the world’s largest economies and offers many attractive options for expats looking for a career change. The country’s most successful industries are driven by a committed workforce — many of them working relatively long hours in a fast-paced business environment. For this, they can expect to be rewarded with fair wages, protected working rights, and a steadily increasing awareness of the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

Working hours

The working week in the U.K. is officially limited to 48 hours. But, having opted out of the European Working Time Directive, some U.K. employees may work more if they have written consent from their manager. Most office jobs will fit these hours in between Monday and Friday. As a strongly service-based economy, however, there are many jobs that require a more flexible approach to fit around customers and international partners.

Communications technology — such as email and mobile phones — has led to some workers blurring the line between their work and home lives. It’s not uncommon to see people in high-pressure jobs regularly taking work home with them, or answering emails in the middle of the night.

This has led to a debate about creating a healthy work-life balance. Many companies now try to support their employees to complete their work within the established working week — for the benefit of all.


Public holidays are usually known as Bank Holidays — referring to the fact that banks remain closed. Depending on where you live, there are between eight and 10 of these a year — including two days at Christmas (25/26 December) and one at New Year (1 January).

While many businesses — including banks — do shut on these days, expats will need to consult their contract to find out whether they get the day off. Many shops, restaurants and cafés find that Bank Holidays are their busiest days of the year. So, employees in these industries may be required to work. Even if they are entitled to Bank Holidays, expats may find their employer offers increased pay to work on these days.

Diversity in the workplace

The U.K. has a diverse, multicultural workforce. There are legal and structural systems in place to make sure that discrimination can be tackled effectively, and expats shouldn’t expect to find themselves at a disadvantage. If they do experience problems, most businesses will have a dedicated human resources department they can turn to for help.

There are more women in the U.K. workforce than ever before, and female expats should expect to be treated equally at all times. A great deal of progress has been made to tackle inequality and discrimination over the last few decades, but there are still some issues that need addressing. While the employment gap between men and women has shrunk, women are still more likely to be in part-time work and less likely to be promoted to senior positions. Many companies have strategies in place to confront this, and expats who experience problems should be able to seek out help and support.

Workers’ rights and responsibilities

The U.K. has many laws in place to protect workers from discrimination and exploitation — reflecting a broadminded and welcoming workplace culture. Expats should not expect to experience — or tolerate — discrimination based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religion. Nor should they expect to experience sexual harassment.

Almost all companies will have internal processes for employees who feel they have been treated unfairly. In most cases, this will involve a formal complaint to your line manager. If you’re not comfortable speaking to a line manager, you should be able to talk to a more senior member of staff — or your company’s human resources department.

Historically, the U.K. has a strong trade union movement. While many workers still belong to a trade union, numbers have steadily declined over the years — particularly in the private sector. If expats do choose to become part of a union, they should not expect to experience discrimination in the workplace as a result.

Balancing work and family life

The U.K.’s long working hours can make it difficult to balance work and home life – particularly for those with young children. That said, it’s been widely recognised that a healthy work-life balance benefits both employees and companies. Many now try to help employees by offering flexible hours and the possibility of working from home. But this is not the case in all industries, and expats should think carefully about how work could impact on family life.

While the system may not be perfect, there is a strong desire to improve support for employees with children. Parental leave and pay for new parents is regulated by law. Many employers also offer financial — and sometimes even practical – assistance with childcare.

A healthy work life

The vast majority of people living and working in the U.K. receive health care through the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS). As a result, expats may find that health insurance benefits are not offered by employers as standard.

Make sure you’re covered before, during and after your move. Contact Aetna International about our range of health and wellness benefit packages today.

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