Being an engineer in the UK

Being an engineer in the UK

3 July 2019
Incrediblengineers UK
Read the article

So close to Europe yet isolated by seas, the UK has its own way of doing business. From the most obvious cultural differences to small tips that can make a difference, Fanny Fouin, a French engineer who has been working in the UK for 5 years, and Tom Jones, Assystem vice-president International Business Development and a British engineer, share with us the main similarities and differences of what it is like to work as an engineer in the UK.

A formal hierarchy yet a challenger spirit

In Fanny’s opinion, the hierarchical structure is usually well defined in a UK business. “If you want to talk to a senior manager, your direct manager and everyone in between, has to be informed in the UK. Whereas, work relationships can be less formal in France.”

Nevertheless, British engineers don’t hesitate to question and challenge their colleagues and senior managers. According to Tom, “British people can be perceived as reserved in society, but they are not in the workplace. Even in a command and control style of hierarchy, everyone feels empowered to constructively challenge an idea or a plan.”

Structured meetings ending with a clear decision

Tom noticed that in Asia and in the Middle East, people tend to avoid conflict during meetings. “I have participated in many meetings in China or Japan for instance, in which the minutes and decisions were often written before the meeting took place. On the contrary in the UK, a detailed agenda and reading material is normally shared before the meeting, but debates happen with actions and decisions being taken inside the meeting rather than outside.”

On the other side of the spectrum, meetings in France, Italy or Spain are much more flexible and relaxed. According to Fanny, “meetings are more about sharing ideas and brainstorming in France. And if people don’t come to an agreement, it doesn’t really matter. It can seem cliché, but British people have a more pragmatic approach. They come into the meeting with a prepared presentation that everyone has read, with precise questions and a clear goal. People may discuss ideas, but in the end, they agree on a consensus that everyone accepts, whether they agree or not.”

Innovation over exploitation of technology

British engineers are expected to study a broader spectrum of subjects than their Asian colleagues for instance before they are required to make a decision to specialise. Tom explains: “in China, engineering students tend to specialise in their chosen professions much earlier than in the UK. The educational system in the UK encourages a broader understanding of lots of disciplines before specialising. This approach allows for the development of a more diverse knowledge base but can take longer to become an expert.”

This brings a real competitive advantage for British teams who are innovating across boundaries, as the educational system focuses on the development of knowledge.

A clear separation between work and personal life

In Fanny’s opinion, the British give more importance to employee’s personal lives than many other countries. She explains: “when I started working in the UK, I noticed that the separation between personal and professional lives is much clearer than in France for instance, even in higher spheres. Employees typically spend about 8 hours a day at work, with flexible working hours. And when they leave the office, they usually leave work aside. This could be perceived as a lack of involvement, but it really is cultural. In 5 years of working in the UK, I rarely received an email from work during the weekend whilst it happened more frequently when I started working with a French team.”

However, relationships at work can easily become more personal. “British engineers easily become friends and see each other outside of work in the UK,” says Fanny. Team members also like to bring a cake or a bowl of fruits on their birthday, as another way to engage with their team.

Sometimes, a sarcastic sense of humour

If you ever work with British people, you need to accept that some of them can have a very dry sense of humour. Tom considers humour at work very important for the development and well-being of the team. Be warned: “British humour can sometimes be a little sarcastic. If someone is saying something which makes absolutely no sense with a straight face, they’re probably joking!”.

As a final piece of advice, Fanny admits that British engineers are used to structure, processes, and methodology, and can sometimes feel uneasy in a more flexible and agile environment such as in France. But these characteristics have their benefits too – and in the end, what matters is the outcome, isn’t it?

Share :

1 commentaire

Suzanne Cubbon

My daughter is only 15 but very interested in design engineering. Would she be able to come and have some work experience or visit you to get inspired maybe?
She is at school in Blackburn and is considering design engineering as one of her A Levels.
Would really welcome any help or feedback please

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tom Jones

Vice-President International Business Development Assystem

Fanny Fouin

Mecanical Engineer Assystem

Our vacancies

Learn more

Related articles

Being an engineer in Tours: "a historic setting for large-scale projects"

Large-scale projects in the nuclear and defense sectors are multiplying in Tours thanks to the many partners present in the region. A perfect opportunity to discover the city known as “Little Pa...

Being an engineer in Cherbourg: "a real feeling of freedom".

The first is working on a major nuclear project, the second on naval defence project engineering. Alexis Turcan and Jérôme Lecolazet have both chosen the Cotentin region to live and work. Seduced by t...

10 good reasons to go and work in the Cotentin region

Just a few hours from Paris, the Cotentin region is renowned for its idyllic living environment, as well as the dynamism of its industries, particularly in the nuclear and defence sectors. Here are 10...

Before moving abroad, you have to know your host environment well

Since May 2019 Assystem has been supporting Uzbekistan in its energy transition thanks to the implementation of the country’s new energy mix (new production infrastructures, transport networks a...

"Working on the construction site of a nuclear power plant and living a five-minute walk from the sea"

As an expatriate in Turkey, Alexia Sergeant is involved in the ambitious nuclear programme of Akkuyu. Beyond the professional challenge, this young engineer shares a real love for a country rich in cu...

"I'm in the right place"

Italian by birth, Paolo Minelli has joined the Assystem team in France last February. His role: managing the data-scientist team and contributing to improve the performance of the group’s projec...

"I've been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions"

Between France and the UK, Nicholas Morris is currently experiencing the daily challenge of developing Assystem’s business around the British EPR project, Hinkley Point C. “FascinatingR...

Will we still need engineers in the future?

The question is not as strange as it might seem. Given the phenomenal growth of digital technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, where does this leave the engineers of tomorrow? How will they...

No, I'm not a superhero

For ordinary people, when we talk about engineers, is the image of Steve Job, inventor of the first Macintosh and founder of a now trillionaire company, or Elon Musk, imagining alone the car new gener...

So what exactly is an engineer?

Engineer /ɛndʒɪˈnɪə/, derived from the Middle English “engineour” and from the Old French “engigneor” – a designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons. > A person ...

Commute, work, sleep ... Inside an engineer's head during a banal day

Builders of bridges or power plants, application developers, designers, project managers … But what exactly do all these engineers do? Between meetings, exchanges with the client, team managemen...

When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

Engineering schools are still as popular as ever. Why? Do we really know what an engineer is? Their backgrounds? Their daily lives? To answer this, we met up with three of them to find out more about ...

NASA’s taking nuclear energy into space

The conquest of space is more than ever at the centre of public attention, with projects like SpaceX and The Stealth Space Company, but who better than NASA to fulfil this dream that has existed for t...

Big Data Automation

It’s no secret that data is the lifeblood of more and more companies. While it brings many benefits for those who use it wisely, it creates just as many constraints for those who don’t. Ma...

Saudi, land of oil… and engineers

In Saudi, being an engineer is more than any profession. With “Saudi Vision 2030” plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy, Saudi engineers are becoming a rare c...

Being a woman engineer in the land of the Corcovado mountain

Happiness seems to be the watchword in the home of samba and the caipirinha. But the cool and carefree image that Brazilians present to the world is juxtaposed against a very different reality. The re...