To newcomers, Aussie working culture can seem like an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Shorts are acceptable, yet lateness is not. We value work-life balance, but we’re actually harder workers than our reputation gives us credit for.
According to recent articles published at the Sydney Morning Herald and Business Insider, Australians have a unique set of rules when it comes to business etiquette. At Business Insider, a quick office survey about Australian working culture revealed some illuminating anecdotes about the rules and rituals that we consider normal, but come as a surprise to expats. One respondent noted that almost anyone will meet you for a coffee in Sydney or Melbourne – even if they have no intention of doing business with you. Just a good excuse for a coffee, perhaps?
We decided to ask the office, AHRI staff – and some of our contributors for their take:
Employees enjoy themselves, because we know we’ll still have a job next week
In Ireland people are much more serious about work than they are here and there’s a more intense working culture. I think it’s because there’s so much more opportunity here. People work hard, but there isn’t that intensity and sense of desperation surrounding work because there is a lot of job security. People can think about having a good time at work too.
– Brian Lynch, Head of Video
And that’s true in comparison to most other countries
I’ve worked across Europe, in the US and I’m origionally from New Zealand and Australia hands down has the most relaxed working culture. Even in New Zealand, where people are similarly relaxed, I’d still say they work harder on the whole than Australians, That’s not a bad thing at all – we have great work-life balance. But I do think that it comes down to the fact that there are so many high-paying jobs that are available and no one’s too worried they’re going to lose their job. Here, it’s not unusual to have chats in the kitchen about things unrelated to work, whereas in Europe or the US when you’re at work the expectation is that you’re either having conversations about work…or you’re working.
– Employee at AHRI (who requested to remain anonymous)
However, job security doesn’t count for everything
There’s this weird fact for customer service jobs. In Australia, employers don’t always ask for an interview with you after you send them your resume. They immediately want you to do a trial; so you end up doing between one to three hours work without getting paid. I’ve never seen anything like this in hospitality or retail in Canada. There they hire you, you get paid for the hours you do and the companies give you a few days or weeks to prove your capabilities.
– Jessica Ferland, Marketing Manager
For Americans, the extra leave is a welcome surprise
A few things that we’re good at (in comparison with the States anyway). When I worked in New York I discovered there’s such a thing as ‘at-will employment’: meaning you can fire someone for any reason, without having to establish “just cause”. We also don’t realise how good the four weeks annual leave we get here is – it’s a big bargaining chip when hiring staff in the US, as they’re used to only getting 2 weeks. Also maternity leave; the possibility of your job being there for you after 12-months of maternity leave is practically zero; you’d be lucky to get three months in the US and none of it paid.
– Cara McLeod, Head of Client Services
…but for Brits it’s a bit of a disappointment
In the UK I was used to significantly more annual leave (30 days, so 20 was a big shock to the system) and you (seemed to) have unlimited sick leave as long as you were signed off by a doctor. Sick leave isn’t accrued as it is here – it’s a right you have that comes with full-time employment.
However, I remember being surprised at first at how easy – and unquestioned – sick leave was compared to the UK. In the UK you get more scrutinised over time off sick, and it’s a massive deal if someone’s ill – in Australia there is a belief that because someone has accrued it, they can/should use it.
My theory is that the working culture of a relatively small amount of annual leave leads to people needing more odd days off, and the accrual of sick leave each month creates a sense of entitlement to use that time.
– Martin Wanless, Head of Content
There’s less hierarchy, but that openness doesn’t extend to everything
As a journalist, it’s much easier to get the head honcho in an organisation to talk to you on the phone than in the UK. They are (generally) more willing and less surrounded by protective minions. I think this is due – perhaps – to Australia being a less class-based society. It’s refreshing to be able to get the views and thoughts of leadership and makes for a more transparent business environment.
On the minus side, the tall poppy syndrome is still alive and well in Australia, whereas intellect and knowledge is a badge worn with pride in the UK. People are inhibited in Australia talking about politics, religion, race – anything that may lead to conflict. In the UK there is a much healthier approach to polemic and debate.
Thongs at work. Love ‘em.
– Amanda Woodard, Editor, HRMonthly
Trust is a given, not an exception
I worked in London for five years in marketing and sales before moving to Australia. Some things I’ve noticed about the working culture here are that there’s a bigger onus on responsibility, as well as flexibility. Employers in Australia seem to have more trust and faith in their employees to manage bigger workloads and take on more responsibility. In the UK employees tend to be more micromanaged and the opportunities to grow within an organisation are fewer. This can open up more opportunity to ‘prove oneself’ and advance, but the flipside can be stressful working days – and little sleep.
That said, Australian companies also seem to put a lot more trust in employees being able to work from home – and trust that they’re actually working. In the UK it just wouldn’t happen. They would assume you’d take the opportunity to go to the pub; and they’d most probably be correct in many cases! Jokes aside, the trust your manager puts in you here means that the majority of people honour the agreement and work effectively wherever they are.
– Lucy Tibbitts, Business Development
We value our work-life balance
The UK is a lot more social than Australia: from Wednesday through to Friday all year round the same local pub would be spilling out onto the pavement filled with half of the office. In Australia employees seem to compartmentalise their work lives from their personal lives. People tend to choose family time over pub time.
– Matt Caulfield, Creative Director
But that doesn’t mean we don’t get sh**t done
People put a lot of time and effort into high-end recruitment efforts both here and in the UK. And it’s true that Aussies get a sh**tload of work done every day; we work super hard, but I think a main difference is that people don’t draw attention to themselves for taking on a huge workload – it’s simply accepted that most people do it. We’re direct about things, but on the whole humble and don’t tend to brag about achievements.
– David Owens, Managing Director, HR Partners
You can leave it til the next day
Feel free to say no! In Australia, if it is nearly time to leave work and a colleague approaches you, you can leave it and solve it the next day. In China, even you go out the door of the office, you’d have to come back in and solve the problem the same day (after working hours).
– Penny He, Accounts
There’s nothing wrong with going home when you’re sick
I’m an American citizen and I worked in the US before moving to Australia. A big surprise to me was the Aussie view of taking sick leave. In the US, unless your leg was falling off or you were hospitalised, you would still come in to work, hacking and sneezing. I can’t count how many times I have come to work here a little sniffly, and people have told me to GO HOME and take my germs with me. That ‘push through’ mentality was hard to get over.
– Rachael Brown, Editor
Our less structured work culture is a boon for the digital age
I think that Australians do adopt a ‘fair-go’ working culture – despite the cliche – and it’s something I see everywhere from the boardroom to the building site.
What we’re also seeing is that leadership in the digital age is very different; it is about evoking the sense of movement for all involved, not just direction via a management structure.
In fact, layers of management are quickly disappearing and being replaced by flatter more nimble structures that reflect this. In many ways the ways companies are addressing the challenges of the new digital era is the way Australians have always naturally worked.
Marc Havercroft, contributor HRMonline and Vice President, SAP
It stands out in comparison to other parts of the world
I came to work in Australia after 16 years working in Cambodia and the thing I noticed is how relaxed work structures are here. In Cambodia – not where I worked, but another office – there was literally a pyramid on the wall showing the hierarchy of the office. It’s a very hierarchical culture and that translates to work too. The first thing people ask you is how old you are, not to be rude but so they know what word to use to address you; it’s very important to people that they know where they stand.
– Michael King, Senior Developer and Web Projects Manager, AHRI