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Is Australia REALLY That Much Different?

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by Lisa Johnson

28 days ago

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I was reading an online blog aimed at people from overseas who would like to work in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa.  It was full of GREAT advice, but there was this one section that really surprised me and made me question our work culture.

The author of the blog said, “Some aspects of the Australian work culture may also surprise foreigners.” They then went on to list some, apparently, uniquely Australian idiosyncrasies in the workplace, including:

There’s a lot of casual conversation

This is true.  There is always a great deal to say about The Bachelor, the state of cricket in Australia and what scandal is rocking rugby league this week.  We also tend to have a lot to say about the state of politics and what we did on the weekend.

Swearing in the workplace is to be expected

No, it’s not.  There will always be some industries and workplaces where swearing is commonplace, but there are an awful lot where you would be sitting with HR doing a ‘please explain’ session if you walked around the office effing and blinding willy-nilly.  It will always depend on the employer, the industry and even the team of people you are working with.  But you shouldn’t expect to be able to swear like a sailor in your workplace.  In fact, I would advise to NOT swear.

There will be a lot of happy hours

If you are working in hospitality you will discover that Aussies like a cheap drink and will try to squeeze in as many rounds as they can when the beer is cheap.  Having a beer after work with your colleagues is pretty popular in some industries, and even within some companies, but it's not necessarily the norm.  More people have a beer at home than do in the pub.  It’s common to have a cold one in hand when you are manning the BBQ for a start.

Australians are super laidback and uphold a ‘no fuss’ attitude, which can be jarring in stressful situations

Having worked in Australia for 18 years, I love a no fuss, laid back work culture, but I can see how it could be stressful if you were coming from somewhere where there were more rules and procedures when there is an issue.  When the fire alarm goes off in the office in Australia, expect people to lazily collect their handbags and mobiles and to chat happily whilst they are traipsing down the fire escape.  I have had, in fact, had to remind people they are not allowed to take their coffee with them when they go down the stairs.  If you are expecting widespread panic and carry on from Aussies, you will likely be a bit disappointed, they just tend to be relaxed about the situation.

Office romances are a thing, and they’re not quite as taboo

Yeah, some workplaces can have more romance and drama than an episode of Home and Away.  And because Australians get antsy with being told what to do at times, they object a fair bit when someone in HR tries to tell them not to get jiggy with each other.  But it's rarely a good idea to get up close and personal with a workmate – things get ugly if it goes wrong and someone inevitably ends up in an uncomfortable situation where they have to try and work with someone they would rather push in front of a bus. 

Most offices have flat organisational structures, without much hierarchy at all.

Oh there is plenty of hierarchy and plenty of workplaces where there are the big wigs and the workers, but generally, Aussies like to ‘like’ the people they work with, so there is often a lot of interaction between management and staff, which can lead some to think the lines are blurred. 

National workplace safety laws are taken very seriously

Yes, yes they are.  This is because, in the past, Australia has had a powerful union presence in the workplace.  Strong unions tend to push for a safe working environment for the workers, and whilst Aussies are always willing to give something a go, they want people to get home safe and sound at the end of the day. 

Australian’s use a lot of blunt humour, even in the workplace

Is there anywhere better to use blunt humour than in the workplace?  Seriously though, it’s a common trait for Aussies to try and see the funny side of any situation – it can deflect people from aggression for a start.  A situation might be serious, but if an Aussie is nervous or under pressure, they are likely to crack a joke. 

Australians embrace a work hard, play hard culture.

I prefer to think that Australian workers are dedicated and conscientious people who understand that having a life/work balance is important.  With a climate that encourages people out doors, we also tend to be social creatures who enjoy a cold drink with like minded people in convivial surroundings.  People can pack a lot of activities in a weekend from sky diving to mowing the lawn to drinks on the harbour. 

The standard working week in Australia is 38 hours – they value their time out of work.

Ahh, the old standard working week. The 38 hours is determined under the legislation as being a standard working week, but like elsewhere in the world, we have people putting in 70 hour weeks and others working considerably less than 38.  Underemployment is a thing in Australia and the cost of living is outstripping wage increases, so in reality, people are trying to work as much as they can to live. 

Australia is traditionally touted as the “lucky country”, but like everywhere else in the world we have good people and bad people.  There are conservatives and libertarians and there are rich people and plenty of poor.  Where we are unique (perhaps) is in our ingrained distrust of authority, a belief in a fair go and the willingness to find the humour in any situation.  And we get to live in this amazing country with sublime beaches, wonderful forests and fantastic vineyards.  The only place better is New Zealand.  New Zealand is colder and it rains more, but the wine is REALLY good and the scenery is outstanding – so when you are finished with Australia, head over the ditch and work there!  People2people has an office in Auckland more than happy to help!

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