Australian Work Culture

View of the Perth city skyline with a park in the foreground.

View of Perth’s Central Business District from King’s Park. Photo © Graeme Churchard, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Australians are patriotic but aren’t especially verbal or boastful about it. Accordingly, Aussies appreciate foreigners who approach Australia with affection, admiration, and a desire to assimilate. This kind of new arrival is considered a great asset. Anyone who comes here seeking to impose their culture on Australians is going to have a hard time. That applies to companies as well.

What you wear, how you act toward others, the hours you keep, and the way you approach your work are important in every respect for finding and keeping a good job.

Doing Business in Australia

With a generally relaxed attitude to life, Australians work culture also tend to be a little more casual. For example, everyone is on a first-name basis. The most junior employee calls the general manager by their first name. Addressing someone as “Mr.” is done in jest, but not necessarily out of respect. This is evidenced by everyone calling the current prime minister “Kevin,” and you call your doctor “Angela” rather than “Dr. Smith.”

Appointments are usually made after there has been a phone call and agreement to meet. A “cold call” or meeting set up without some sort of introduction is not favorable; the introduction can be as simple as “so and so told me to give you a call.” Who you know is important—more so than your position or job title.

Meeting agendas are only drafted for formal meetings that require minutes, and while a meeting will have a chair, there is a general lack of meeting structure: no formal facilitation to keep the meeting moving and no time allocation for each item of business to ensure that the meeting stays on time. As a result, meetings frequently run late and don’t always get all of the items addressed in an equal manner. Also, coffee meetings are a normal part of business in the cities and are considered a legitimate way to have a meeting.

How to Dress

Australians generally dress casually in light clothing because of the warm weather and the historical rarity of air-conditioning. However, as a general rule in offices people dress business casual, but this differs from industry to industry. In upper management, banking, or law, or to meet with high-flying clients, as a rule the dress code is a sharp suit. British-style formalism still permeates the banking business, for example, and barristers still wear black robes and white wigs in court. There are regional clothing variations; in Melbourne, for example, black is famously popular, while in Brisbane, mostly due to the sunnier climate, colors are more prevalent. Depending on your rung on the ladder, a suit is still essential in management for women and men, while younger colleagues can get away with more casual attire.

Professional Conduct

In business Australians are famously nonconfrontational. Words like reconciliation and arbitration are a part of daily life. Aussies like harmony at home and at the office.

In light of that, Aussies also like to kid each other all the time, and insults are seen as a form of affection. You will find yourself tested, perhaps in a job interview, speaking with a recruiter, or in the job itself. Someone might call you “another stupid bloody Yank,” which will sound like an insult, but it’s really just a test. You might reply, “that’s right; they asked me to come to keep you company.” Never take an insult; throw it right back, but paint a smile on it and make sure everyone can see that you are playing along and assimilating.

Australians are highly egalitarian, and while respectful toward the boss, they aren’t obsequious, and you shouldn’t be either. Neither can they stand the office snitch; it’s all about the team, so don’t become the one who tells on someone else, no matter how much you want to please the boss.

Generally, Australian workers tend to take public transportation and arrive at work on time. They tend to leave on time too and place a high premium on getting the job done efficiently while in the office. Untidy desks are not appreciated, five-minute calls should take five minutes, and 10 o’clock appointments should begin at 10 o’clock, not five minutes after.

However easygoing and focused Australians may seem, the American approach of telling it like it is or barging in and grabbing the bull by the horns tends not to go down well. Bite your tongue, take it a little slower, and go with what the team decides until you find your niche, have been accepted, and may be able to take it farther. Remember that tall-poppy syndrome: Australians don’t like those who stand out from the team. Obviously there are promotions and the corporate ladder, as in any workforce, but unless you want to make firm enemies, bide your time.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Australia.

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