Also starting with Windows 8/Server 2012, by default an update will NOT reboot a machine if a user is logged in and the screen is locked (indicating that the user is not present). When the user returns and unlocks their screen, they receive a prompt indicating that a reboot is required and can defer the reboot up to a set amount of time (that maximum is set by policy, default is 10 minutes, maximum possible is 30 minutes.)
This generally gives the user plenty of time to save their work and reboot their PC while the timer discourages them from continuing to work without first rebooting.
The default update policies are fairly user-friendly and ensure updates are installed in a timely manner while giving users the opportunity to save their work if they are in the middle of something. It sounds like the company you work for went out of their way to deliberately configure the update policies to be as user-hostile as possible.