United Kingdom: Business Environment

United Kingdom flag United Kingdom: Business Environment

Business Environment

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Commisceo Global, British business culture as per Commisceo Global
Opening Hours and Days
Standard banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00-9:30 a.m. until 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. (some remain open until 5:30 p.m.). Many bank branches stay open late once per week (until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.), as well as being open on Saturdays (9:00-9:30 until 12:30 or 3:30). Banks in England and Wales remain open over lunch, but many of their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland close for one-hour at lunch.

Public Holidays

New Year Day 1 January
2nd January 2 January (Scotland only)
Saint Patrick's Day 17 March (in Northern Ireland only)
Good Friday Friday before Easter
Easter Monday Monday after Easter Sunday (except in Scotland)
Easter Tuesday Tuesday after Easter (Nothern Ireland only)
May Day First Monday of May
Victoria Day 21 May (Scotland only)
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday of May (except in Northern Ireland, where it is the first Monday of May)
Orangemen's Day 12 & 13 July (Northern Ireland only)
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday of August (except in Scotland, where it is on the first Monday of August)
St Andrew's Day 30 November (in Scotland only)
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
Holiday Compensation
If a public holiday falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be a compensation day.

Periods When Companies Usually Close

There are no set times when companies close, however many close between Christmas and the New Year.

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
The fundamental principles of business culture in the United Kingdom are courtesy, politeness, discipline and punctuality. The British are known for their "tongue-in-cheek" and ironic humour, which they may use when doing business.

The business culture is less hierarchical than most countries in mainland Europe, as managers keep a marginal power distance. However, hierarchies are still definitive and influence the decision-making process. Decisions are usually made from the top down, nevertheless they are not imposed abruptly upon staff but rather presented as guidelines or suggestions to follow. The decision-making process usually takes time and higher-ranking executives keep in mind the annual budget of their company especially before engaging in a large deal.

Personal relationships are not as important as in Mediterranean countries and even less so among the younger generation. Nevertheless, the British enjoy working with those with whom they have some kind of familiarity. It is therefore recommended to try using a third-party introduction to initiate business relationships. Networking is often key to long-term business success. Most British and business people look for long-term relationships with people they do business with and will be cautious if one appears to be going after a quick deal. A pub lunch is a good context for beginning a business relationship and is preferable to meeting in an office setting.

First Contact
The British are used to communicating by email and then engage in other forms of more direct communication, including face-to-face meetings and conference calls. It is better to send the email directly to the person concerned, by their proper title and full name and use a formal tone. The British would want to get to know you and understand what is in it for them before setting up a meeting. Thus, the email requesting an initial meeting should address the specific needs of the specific department and clearly indicate the objectives of the meeting. It should be sent at least a few days in advance.
Time Management
Punctuality and time management are extremely important in the UK. It is important to arrive on time or even slightly early. Tardiness reflects badly in a professional setting and foreign associates should definitely inform their British counterparts of their delay with an explanation and an apology. Meetings are also timed in advance and the agenda is expected to be shared prior to the meeting. Meetings usually follow the agenda. However, if there are other issues to discuss, the British may leave time for them at the end.
Greetings and Titles
Handshakes are the most common form of greeting for both genders. They tend to be brief but firm. Maintaining direct eye contact during introductions is well-received. When meeting someone from the opposite sex, women tend to extend their hand first. If someone introduces themselves "Mrs" or "Mr" with their surname, it is appropriate to use these forms until asked to use their first name. Nevertheless, the younger generation is most likely to introduce themselves with their first name and expect to address their counterparts by using their first names.
Gift Policy
Gift giving is not necessarily a part of the business culture in the UK; however, reciprocation is good practice when gifts are received. Some firms are encouraged not to accept any sort of gift while others are prevented from doing so on legal grounds. If a gift is offered, it is important to ensure that the gift is not too expensive to be considered as a bribe or too cheap to be viewed as an insult. Appropriate gifts include: company greeting cards, pens, books or a souvenir from the visitor's country. The successful conclusion of a negotiation is also an acceptable occasion to exchange gifts. Gifts are usually unwrapped immediately.
Dress Code
Formal business attire is the norm both for men and women in the United Kingdom. Men are expected to wear dark coloured suits with shirt and tie whereas women usually wear business suits, dresses or blouses. Accessories are usually worn. Business casual attire or t-shirt and jeans are accepted in less formal sectors (e.g. creative industries, IT).
Business Cards
There is no specific protocol surrounding the exchange of business cards. Cards are usually exchanged during the first meeting and it is always best to treat the card with respect.
Meetings Management
It is common place to start meetings with some small talk to break the ice. It is not recommended to talk about personal topics to avoid intruding in the private lives of your British counterparts. While the British tend to be rather formal, especially during the initial stages of negotiation, humour is used profusely to lighten the setting. It is recommended to reciprocate this to build a good atmosphere for discussion.

It is important to back up your arguments with facts and figures and refrain from all sort of exaggerated claims. Your offer should emphasise win-win scenarios. The British are likely to be secretive about their final offer, therefore it is recommended not to expose your position too much early on. The British can be cautious and unlikely to commit to anything immediately, so you should not expect final decisions to be made during first meetings. Nevertheless, you can be proactive and ask suggestive questions. This will encourage your British counterparts to move forward within a specific time frame. Despite their formality, the British often like to have a relaxed approach about business, therefore it is better to give the impression that everything is well managed and under control. If your British counterparts are interested in learning more about your offer they will most likely accept or suggest a follow-up meeting or a business lunch/dinner. On the other hand, if they say 'interesting' in a meeting and/or remain vague about the negotiations, they are most likely uninterested in your offer.

During negotiations, it is better not to sound overly rehearsed, as most British tend to be sceptical of slick social practises. That being said, being polite is extremely important to the extent that most British prefer indirect communication, especially in the context of negative information. They may resort to vague statements, humour or non-committal agreements to indicate they disagree with you. They are also masters of euphemism and do not use effusive language. By using indirect speech yourself, you can appear more accommodating and avoid coming off as rude or arrogant.

Business entertaining is quite common in the UK and meals can take place in restaurants, pubs or cafes. Pubs in particular allow professionals to bond in a non-hierarchical setting and negotiate in a less formal manner. It is better to wait for your British counterpart to bring up business rather than directly delving into negotiations in such settings. The bill is usually paid by the party that extended the invitation; however, rank may also come into play. The practice of inviting business colleagues home to dinner is less and less common.
Sources for Further Information
Cultural Atlas - British Business Culture Business Culture - Business Etiquette in the UK Globig- A Guide to Business Etiquette in the UK Culture Crossing - UK Business Culture

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Latest Update: July 2024

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