According to the uSwitch.com Quality of Life Index in September 2011, the UK was rated the worst place to live in Europe. This Index calculates the quality of life of 10 European countries using factors such as cost of living, income, hours of sunshine, life expectancy, culture and working hours.
Although some may argue that bad weather makes living and working in the UK difficult, it is unfortunately not the only reason why the UK lags behind. In fact much of this poor ranking is down to the high cost of accommodation, public transportation and fuel which overshadow the UK’s high incomes (ranked 4th in the study). These factors combined with the higher number of hours workers spend in the office, fewer days off and a later retirement age all lead to the argument that the UK is the worst place to live in Europe.
The 2011 urban riots that shook the country and confirmed the idea of a ‘broken society’ put the finishing touches to this negative image of living and working in the UK. For some there is no wonder why the country is becoming less attractive to expats. According to the HSBC Expat Survey 67% of the expats living and working in the UK believe that the economic situation in the country has worsened over the past few years.
But is living and working in the UK that bad? What happened to the legendary British ‘Home, sweet home’? We should not be too pessimistic. Last year International Living magazine published its 2010 annual ranking of the world’s best places to live in and the UK dropped to 25th place falling behind former communist countries such as the Czech Republic and Lithuania. However the UK was ranked 7th in the same study in 2011 which is quite a positive change.
Besides many recent economic difficulties, living and working in the UK does come with other challenges. Expats should understand British culture in order to successfully fit into British society. For example, a key British behaviour that some expats struggle to understand is indirectness. People in the UK are often perceived to be very polite and have an indirect way of communicating. They don’t always say what they mean, answers are often ambiguous and many rely on non-verbal communication such as facial expressions to understand other people’s reactions or perceptions. This can be difficult to interpret without an understanding of British communication styles.
Living and working in the UK also requires an understanding of British business culture in order to operate successfully in the UK work environment. The typical flat structure of many organisations in the UK can be confusing for many foreign newcomers. First names are often used, employees have great responsibilities and managers tend to act more as coaches than as authoritarian leaders. This combined with the importance placed on results and performance can be stressful for international workers who don’t anticipate and have the skills to manage the challenges they may face when living and working in the UK.
Even if some argue that the UK is becoming less attractive to expatriates, its colourful cultural and historical background combined with its dynamic innovations and increasing diversity make it a great place to live. With the many events taking place in 2012 such as the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics, it will be interesting to see whether expatriates and residents will improve their opinion of the UK as a place to live and work.