Same but different - The ABC of business culture in Australia

We are very pleased to welcome this month's guest blogger, Fiona Koetsier, who is going to talk about her home culture of Australia and how it compares with the British way of doing things.

Truly understanding the culture of a country means understanding its people and its history. For better, for worse.  For old and new.  The history of modern Australia is ‘young’ by world standards, but its roots are old and deep. Australian culture is defined by its diversity, its heritage, its geography and its multi-cultural population.  Do some research in advance, learn a little about the old and new Australia and you will receive a warm welcome and be well on the road to understanding its business culture. You will soon unlock the Australian code of behaviour that mixes hard work with fun, balances work stress with humour and that values an egalitarian attitude and work practice.

Understanding Australian identity

The British Government initiated European settlement of the Australian continent by establishing a penal settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. Australians sometimes joke about their possible convict bloodlines, but … be careful!  While they may allow themselves to do this, it isn’t really appreciated when a British colleague in the office does. Many Australians do have Anglo-Celtic roots and there is a definite fondness for the ‘mother’ country.  However, Australians are proudly independent, egalitarian and they find hierarchy difficult to tolerate. They will openly challenge authority. 

As Australians value equality, they respond best to people that make them genuinely feel like ‘I am no better than you’. For example, the cleaner will call the managing director by his or her  first name and not hesitate to make small talk. 

Australia Now – A multi-cultural, international landscape

Despite Australia’s distance from the top half of the world, it’s important to remember that most Australians have a truly international disposition.  Most Australians have travelled widely through Europe and Asia and the proportion of Australians who were born overseas has hit its highest point in over 120 years.  So, when you do business with Australians, get ready to talk about a diverse range of subjects.  They love talking about travel and food. And get used to talking sport – because Australians talk sport in the same way Brits talk weather. Cricket, soccer, golf, tennis, rugby and of course, Australian rules football.  Get ready to support a team – the friendly rivalry involved in talking sport is expected!

Go global in Australia 

While Australia may still be the land down under to the Brits, it is actively seeking out and forging global partnerships. The Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy 2016 - 2020 outlines a five-year plan to strengthen and engage Australia’s foreign alumni with the broader goals of enhancing the country’s diplomatic access and influence and building trade and investment links. 

You probably won’t be surprised that Australia’s two largest exports are natural resources - iron ore and coal. What may surprise you is that Australia is building a sustainable knowledge economy.  In fact, currently, at over $20 billion per year,  International Education is the third largest export and Deloitte forecasts that Australia’s international enrolment will increase by about 45% by 2025.  The streets and offices of Australia are intercultural hubs and so be prepared to join in!

Business culture tips

So, in that spirit of sharing and diversity, here are some words of  advice from a variety of  business leaders who have transitioned between the UK and Australia!

Most Australian workers expect the same level of respect and engagement with all employees

  • Most people in Australia will feel prepared to offer an opinion in a meeting even if they aren't the accepted expert
  • Australians love to challenge authority so will sometimes need to have rules explained to them before they are happy following them
  • UK culture is more ‘live to work’ and Australia is more "work to live"
  • Australians appreciate a positive approach and a can-do problem solving attitude.
  • In Australia, profanity can be the norm and is a natural part of the local vocabulary. It’s not uncommon to hear swear words used in the work place and not taboo to drop the occasional profanity. It does of course matter who they are talking to and how well they know someone
  • Working hours - Don't mistake Australians' more relaxed style for lack of hard work. Australians have one of the longest working days on average and most will do extra hours without thinking about it
  • Humour … If an Australian ‘rubbishes’ you, you have made it in to their friendship/trust group. Making fun of you is a sign of affection even if it is annoying at times or you feel it is rude
  • Australia can be relaxed like you see in the movies (shorts, bikinis and bare feet) but it can also be very conservative and a stickler for regulations
  • Social protocol…. Don't forget to buy the 'first round' at the pub if you can't stay long.... 

Australian British Culture - it's not always as easy as ABC!

Fiona is an experienced international communication specialist.  She has worked with school and university students as well as industry and political leaders.  She is now based in Melbourne, Australia but has also lived and worked in the UK, USA, Poland, France, Italy, Singapore and Nauru.

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