You may have heard how laid-back Australians are. But we mentioned recently that in fact Australians work quite hard and relatively long hours compared to Europe. While we are serious about out work-life balance, Australians are conscientious workers in general. We take our holidays seriously and will certainly take sick days after a long weekend…but taking a sick day when we are actually sick is unusual!
In comparison with other business cultures, Australians have a unique set of business etiquette rules. Some of these conventions can be quite surprising to foreigners when they begin working in Australia.
If you are moving to Australia and expect to be starting work soon, you may like to look over these important and sometimes amusing quirks.
For example, we don’t mind the use of profanity in the office – in moments of anger or ire; workers at all levels are prone to swearing. We don’t recommending indulging in this practise straightaway…keep your ears out though and see how Australians do it. It’s rarely done with any level of vehemence!
We might be laid back, but being late is not appreciated. You are generally expected to turn up to interviews and meetings right on time or a tiny bit early. We also prefer chitchat before starting a business meeting – we discuss sports or the weather for up to 15 minutes to break the ice before getting down to work. You will generally be offered tea or coffee or water…and you would be expected to provide these items if you are the host.
Some European countries drink alcohol after meetings. Generally this isn’t acceptable in Australia unless it’s after about 5pm! Then you may be invited to a pub or wine bar. Drinking a soft drink in these situations is perfectly acceptable. Imbibing extensively is not!
Australians are renowned for their straight talk; we are candid and direct and we expect others to say what they mean. This is relevant in business also (and associated with the aforementioned swearing)! However joking around is also part of workplace culture. A good rule of thumb is that the more an Australian likes you, the ruder and more profane they are! This means they are simply relaxed around you and know that you appreciate a laugh.
There is also a more relaxed hierarchy and bureaucracy in Australia than elsewhere. You will likely be able to meet with, talk to and drink with all levels of your company from the cleaner to the CEO. The individual will also have greater responsibility due to the smaller company sizes. That being said, tall poppy syndrome is alive and well. Australians don’t like people who are “too big for their boots”, who talk themselves up or boast. We aren’t particularly modest people, but bragging is a no-no. We are generally subtler when talking about our backgrounds, experience and expertise and are less visibly competitive and more collaborative than, for instance, Americans might be used to. This is partly because we have a more conservative workplace, but also because our companies are smaller.
Don’t take this for reticence though; Australians are relatively quick adopters…new technology and work practices. We are efficient at work, and smaller business structures mean we are agile, diverse and innovative.
While your work hours in Australia are likely to be longer than you expected, it is more flexible. In the big cities, your workplace will understand your long commute so leaving slightly early to make your ferry is acceptable as is rushing home for a sick child. Taking the odd sick day and long lunch break is also fine!
Drinks after work on Fridays are an institution…while you might pull longer hours during the rest of the week; leaving before 5pm on Friday for drinks – either with workmates or other friends – is fine. Australians also prefer lunchtime, coffee or after-work drinks in lieu of meeting rooms. If you have a one-on-one meeting or, with up to 4 people, a more relaxed meeting situation is preferred.
There is a lot of slang in the workplace. Even if you come from an English-speaking country you might struggle! Don’t worry, just ask if you don’t understand – Australians love interpreting their vernacular and explaining where it came from. Words like Smoko (smoking or tea/coffee break), Preso (Powerpoint Presentation), Doco (Document) and Spready (Excel Spreadsheet) are likely to come up within your first week at a standard office. In Queensland and the Northern Territory you might struggle even more with stronger accents…don’t worry if they laugh; they aren’t laughing at you but with you about the quirks of our conversation.
“No worries” actually means exactly that. Don’t worry, the job will get done. This is appropriate in offices and trades alike.