Work to Rule


During my initial days of my internship, I found my new work environment confusing and unique from any internship I’ve had at home. As I read further into Kate Fox’s Watching the English, specifically the chapter on work, I began to understand that the things I found “weird” about my workplace, co-workers, and bosses are simply a part of English culture. Exemplifying the English “importance of not being earnest” that Fox stresses throughout the book, my bosses create a relaxed and friendly environment in our five-person studio. Unlike the typical American workplace in which workers sit at their individual desks and plow through work without really talking to their co-workers, my workplace is a very social and integrated environment. We all talk and help one another with work, and we sit down at a large table in the middle of the studio to eat lunch with one another everyday. We generally avoid talking about work while at lunch, making me feel as if I’m sitting down to eat a family meal. Even when I worked as a swim coach at Rice University last summer, the coaches, lifeguards, and I usually ate lunch individually, and our boss definitely never joined us.

While my bosses at my internship care about their business and getting efficient work done, they are also very lenient with arrival times. I attempt to arrive on time at 10AM everyday, but even on the days when I’m running late, I’m often the first one to the studio. My co-workers arrive late almost everyday, and my bosses occasionally run late as well. This further demonstrates Fox’s point that the “importance of not being earnest” rule in English culture extends to the workplace. Fox discusses the fact that if you’re work is interesting, then you are allowed to be interested in it. The nature of my bosses work makes itself thought provoking- they write articles and interview a wide variety of people in the community who they believe challenge the status quo of society. Thus, according to Fox, it is socially acceptable for them to act interested in it. However, Fox also states that while it’s acceptable to act invested in you’re work if it’s interesting, workaholics are still regarded as “sad and pathetic.” My bosses’ relaxation with arrival times and the friendly culture they create in their studio demonstrates that as interested as they are in their work, they avoid the English taboo of being workaholics.

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  • Hey Kat, I really enjoyed your explanation of your work environment because it helped highlight some themes that also occur in my workplace. My workplace is similar to yours in the social aspect of work. It’s not nearly as individualistic as the United States and really has a light atmosphere filled with frequent talk about whatever comes to mind and invitations to go grab a few drinks in the oncoming weekend. But one of the strangest things at your workplace was the fact that everyone shows up late. Although my workplace does have a light mood and at times a slow pace due to the need for an afternoon tea or five minute break in between a couple hours of tasks I could never imagine my coworkers showing up late. My coworkers are by no means workaholics but I feel like to them the time of when you go to work is pretty sacred and has often lead to one coworker giving another coworker a couple friendly jabs if they show up ten minutes late. This might be due to the fact that my workplace has a finite schedule where employees are supposed to be open to residents otherwise their job won’t be done properly. But it seems that to me that in the minds of my coworkers their nine to five is religiously followed. But thanks for the insight into your workplace it was really fun to compare and contrast mine with yours!

    • Through my experiences in the office, I also picked up on this theme of employees not being too earnest.  This was shockingly different than any work experience I’ve had in the past.  Last summer I worked in a much more formal environment for a large corporation.  My daily encounters with employees generally focused on what project they were working on and there was a tense feeling in the office because of the intracompany competition.  In the rare times when people did not speak about work directly, they often spoke of their accomplishments in their field of work.  Even in previous experiences in more informal environments, such as working sports summer camps, US employees rarely bring up topics not related to work during daily conversations.
      It seems that you also found that the “work-life balance” to be much more visible in British culture, and this healthy, balanced atmosphere was definitely visible in my internship. While at work, my coworkers kept the office fun, with lots of jokes and casual conversation. Employees engaged me in casual conversations throughout the day and would ask about my experiences in Europe to date. This aspect of casual conversation led employees to know one another on a personal basis and gave the office a family feel, which was quite refreshing.

      • Cory, I agree with your comparison between the American workplace and the British workplace. Last summer, I worked at a law firm and an accounting firm and my interactions with my co-workers were much more formal. Conversations at both firms were mainly about work, and although some employees would go out to lunch with each other, most choose to either grab something on their own or eat at their desks. My experiences at my internship in London were much different. At lunch, most of the employees would eat together downstairs and work would not be discussed, as Kat experienced eating lunch with her co-workers.

        Like Kat, I also experienced lenient arrival times. I was supposed to be at work at 9 or 10 depending on the day, but if I was running late, my boss would not care at all. She also had a long commute and wold joke about the slowness of the District line. This attitude definitely does not carry over to my jobs in America. Even working for Traveller at school (a fully student run organization), if I am running five minutes late I will have calls from my co-workers wondering if I am coming in that night. The Brits’ relaxed attitude towards work is certainly something I wished would carry over to my jobs in America.

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