Work Hard, Play Hard versus Work Hard, Play Modestly

“Working hard or hardly working?” appears to summarize the British mentality towards work and play. During the internship class that was held on Tuesday, it was interesting to see the different ways in which the work-life balance varied across different classmate’s internships, and the varying influence each business’ practice of this principal had on its office environment. Several of my classmates explained their office culture promoted a work-life balance through a relaxed office environment. “Relaxed” in this context means a variety of aspects regarding the workplace, from a laid-back dress code to getting lunch or drinks with co-workers. On Tuesday, I explained my internship had more of an “American” workplace culture rather than a relaxed British one. However, after reading Kate Fox’s chapter on “Work Rules” I’m rethinking my previous argument that my workplace isn’t stereotypically British. Fox argued that although the British claim to “work hard, play hard” and have an ideal work-life balance, in practice the Brits have a “work hard, play moderately” policy. I came into my internship with the expectation that Brits had a relaxed culture in the office, and a “play hard” lifestyle after, that they filled themselves up with pints during their breaks and after they leave work. In some cases, maybe this pattern is true, however “work hard play moderately” is far more fitting in my office environment. At work, my co-workers are serious about getting their job done to the best of their ability. Working hard is especially important in a non-profit workplace where doing one’s job effectively has the potential to make a significant difference on the lives of others, and my colleague’s commitment to their jobs and the organization’s mission make it clear they are aware of this significance. However, there is a life balance, and a “moderate play” to the office culture as well. I’ve seen my office alter employee hours for religious holidays, one of my co-workers is an avid painter in her spare time, and my offer to check work emails and make a phone call during a travel weekend was thought of as “absurd.” Consequently, based on my office experiences and those of my classmates, I agree with aspects of Fox’s chapter that describe the British office environment being more relaxed than that of America. However, the extent to which her proposal that the British have a more relaxed work environment varies. Overall, I think there is a happy medium between “work hard play hard” and “work hard play moderately” that exists in the British workplace. It will be interesting to compare and contrast office environments in Britain with those in America as I hold consequent jobs at home.



  • It was interesting to hear about your internship in Tuesday’s internship class. Everyone else described their relaxed or friendly work environment, but I think you were the only person who seemed to have a more “american” work environment. After working here and at home I definitely see the differences between the two country’s work environments, but I also would not be surprised if America’s work place begins to look more like London’s. I feel like younger companies are embracing the friendly, drinks after work, enjoyable work place idea as seen at Facebook, and as time passes I see this trend continuing.

  • I totally agree with a lot of what you said in this post. Personally, I have been working from home for the most part, so I may not have had the most exposure to the British workplace. Nonetheless, however, the tone of my boss and other people in management positions comes across quite clearly over Skype calls. At one point, I was faced with a very similar response to the one you were met with when you offered to take calls and check emails over your vacation weekend. When I was asked about how long I would be staying in the UK, I was honest and told them that whereas my internship must technically end on July 22nd, I will be in London an additional week to show my family around the city. Out of pity for my boss’ crazy busy work schedule in preparation for the upcoming converence, I offered to provide light amount of help on work matters during that additional week to whatever extend I am legally allowed. Just like your boss, mine thought of this proposition as totally absurd, and told me that I should respect my vacation time. This was very nice to hear, as I agree that the work culture in the US is much more high strung and sometimes even unaccommodating. I find it really fantastic that even the employees at your rather American-style workplace were allowed to reschedule their work around their own religious holidays, as I think this should practically be a right. Thankfully, my workplace has a very similar outlook on scheduling work around each employee’s personal commitments — possibly even more so! This mindset is what motivated the company to work completely remotely; they wanted al their employees to be able to work whenever and wherever is most convenient and appealing to them (just so long as they get the work done!). As a result, I will be continuing my internship remotely back in the states. Different location, different time zones, different schedules to work around, but this flexibility will allow me to continue with an internship I’ve actually really enjoyed! Can’t wait

  • I agree with your analysis of the “work hard, play modestly” culture. I would describe the employees at my internship as just as hard working at other places I have worked at in America, but they certainly go about work in a different fashion. My supervisor asked me to work from home one week, and I told her I was going to Nice but I could try to, and she also reacted like your employers did like it was crazy that I would even think about it. She is currently on vacation in the Dominican Republic and is not working or responding to emails while on vacation. In America, people usually still try and respond to emails and do work even if they are on vacation. I do enjoy the more laid back and enjoyable work atmosphere, and I agree with Hayley’s comment that this might spill over into younger American companies.

  • A little late to the game here, but I really like the way you describe your work environment Dylann. Something interesting for me was the difference between your office and mine. Your coworkers’ passion and awareness of the necessity to get the job done quickly and correctly stand a bit different from mine. In the government environment I was in, there was an air of importance, but also a lack of urgency. I was able to make mistakes and the results weren’t as drastic. If I misprinted 200 letters (which I did), it wasn’t much of a big deal because we weren’t on a very tight budget. I can certainly relate to their shock at the prospect of us doing work during the weekend. Similar to you, I asked if I could finish a speech over the weekend and they were dumbfounded that I would even consider it. There’s an aspect of W&L work ethic that didn’t transfer over to London!


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