Managing in Australia
Working Successfully in an Independent Culture
Australia is a country with a reputation and heart almost as big as its landmass.
Thinking about it brings to mind ancient Aboriginal cultures; the unique sounds of the didgeridoo; a wind-swept, rugged country surrounded by pristine beaches; bounding kangaroos; and independent, friendly people.
The country's history is closely linked with its modern culture, which rivals other countries in technological advancements and innovation. If you're relocating to Australia to manage a team, then you'll probably have some idea of what to expect.
In this article, we'll explore how you can live and work successfully in Australia.
Keep in mind that this article is meant as a general guide only. Australia's workforce is dynamic and multicultural, and varies widely depending on the city or region that you’re working in. Stay flexible in your management approach, and use your own best judgment when working with others.
Australia is a democratic federation, consisting of six states and two territories. Although the British monarch is formally Queen of Australia, Australia is an independent country with its own government.
Evidence of human habitation in Australia goes back almost 50,000 years, to the origins of the Aboriginal tribes. Australia first became populated with Westerners in the late 1700s, with convicts and soldiers from England and Ireland, when Britain took control of the country and made it a penal colony.
Australia is a vast country.
Because of its unique history and cultural ancestry, the Australian people are known for their laid-back personalities, their independent nature, and their ability to work hard and survive tough times.
Australia's culture is inclusive and open-minded, thanks to the country's liberal yet well-managed immigration policy. Today, more than 25 percent of Australians are foreign-born, and 226 languages are spoken within the country. This creates a diverse melting pot, with many different cultures and religions.
English is the official language of Australia, and is spoken by 95 percent of the population. However, Australian English (known as "Strine") is a mix of British, American, and Aboriginal spellings and words. Communication problems can occasionally occur, due to the many distinct accents and slang terms used by Australians.
For example, some words commonly used in the United States have vulgar connotations in Australia. Other words, such as "barbie" and "cossie," are distinctly Australian, and will be widely understood. If you're unsure of a word (or its connotations), don't be afraid to ask – Australians generally have an excellent sense of humor, and most will enjoy talking about language differences.
Australia's employment conditions are regulated by Fair Work Australia, an independent governing body established in 2005. This tribunal sets working standards for the country, helps address grievances, manages workplace protection, and facilitates bargaining between employees and employers.
Since 2010, National Employment Standards (NES) have also protected Australian workers. Under NES, employers must maintain certain working conditions and standards to do business legally. Some of these state that:
- Employees must not work more than 38 hours per week.
- Employers must provide flexible working arrangements to parents of school-aged children, or to parents of children with a disability.
- Employees are entitled to up to 12 months of unpaid leave, with the right to request another 12 months, in addition to maternity, paternity, or adoption leave.
- Employees are entitled to four weeks of paid leave per year.
- Employees are entitled to four weeks' notice of termination (five weeks if the employee is over 45 and has been in the same job for at least two years), and up to 16 weeks of redundancy pay.
In addition to these general awards, there are also entitlements for specific industries and occupations. Before hiring, firing, or setting schedules, make sure that you research the standards that apply to your specific industry.
Australians are given paid days off for national holidays. These holidays include the following:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Australia Day – January 26.
- Harmony Day – March 21.
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018; April 19 in 2019).
- Easter Monday – Date changes each year (April 2 in 2018; April 22nd in 2019).
- Anzac Day – April 25.
- Queen's Birthday Holiday – Dates change according to state, territory, or region.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
- Boxing Day – December 26.
In addition to these national holidays, many territories also celebrate their own holidays, such as Picnic Day, Labor Day, and the Melbourne Cup. Make sure that you're aware of local customs, so that you don't schedule a meeting or deadline during a regional holiday.
Getting the Best From Your Team
Australians can be wary of people who try to impress others by boasting about achievements, education, qualifications, or business accomplishments. You'll earn your team members' trust by being humble about any success that you've had. So, let your actions speak for themselves, and just be yourself.
Your team members will likely be modest about their own achievements, so don't assume that their modesty means that they're not qualified to do a particular task or project.
When you first start working with your team in Australia, you might be surprised at occasional teasing at your expense, but take this in your stride and show your team that you can laugh at yourself. Many Australians have a great sense of humor, and you'll establish a good rapport if you can be self-deprecating.
You'll get along best with your team if you manage your emotions at work. Although Australians value socializing, they typically don't let their emotions influence their actions or decisions, especially at work. Avoid showing anger, over-excitement, or frustration while you're in the office.
Australians value established relationships highly, but they usually have no problem working with people that they've never met before. However, they may resist when they feel pressured, especially in negotiations. Whether you're negotiating a salary with a new recruit or finalizing a business deal, use win-win negotiation strategies to find a compromise that you and the other person can be happy with.
When issuing instructions or making a presentation, keep things short and to the point. There's no need to go into excessive detail, as Australian team members value brevity and directness.
Your team members will likely resist micromanagement, so take care not to exert too much authority or power over them. It's better to take a more relaxed management approach with your team, or to use transformational leadership to get results.
The independent and self-reliant nature of your Australian team will be a major benefit at work, and will make your job as a manager much easier. Your people will probably want to try a project or task first on their own, so give them as much autonomy as you can – if they need help, they'll ask for it. Many Australians are comfortable with risk, so don't be afraid to present a new or risky idea to your team, as they'll likely embrace it.
Over 80 percent of the population of Australia lives on the coast, and you'll find cultural diversity in almost every city. This means that whether you're working in Perth on the west coast, or Sydney on the east coast, you'll likely be managing a multicultural team, so take time to get to know your people and their unique backgrounds. Our article on The Seven Dimensions of Culture will help you manage cultural differences within your team.
Most Australians are very approachable, and many foreigners find it easy to do business with them. However, this doesn't mean that they approach business casually. In general, Australians value timeliness and professionalism, just as others do.
- Although meetings may not always start promptly, take care to arrive on time and be prepared; this shows your commitment and will help establish your reputation.
- Don't be afraid to express your opinion frankly and directly. Generally, Australians value candor and the ability to express beliefs, so be prepared to defend your decisions with colleagues over dinner or in the conference room. Many Australians approach debates with a healthy sense of fun and entertainment. If you shy away from these conflicts, you'll quickly lose the respect of the group. Our article on constructive controversy has tips that you can use to engage in healthy debates.
- Many Australians socialize after work, but, if your team invite you out, don't discuss work unless someone else brings it up first. It's also important to know that, often, everyone takes a turn paying for a round of drinks for the group (called "shout for a round"). If you skip your turn, you'll make a bad impression.
- Never wink at a woman, even in fun, as it's considered inappropriate. It's also important to avoid gesturing with one or two fingers, as people often consider this rude or vulgar.
- Australians will likely use your first name immediately at work. Don't take offense: titles and position aren't highly regarded here.
- Australians love sports, and that's putting it mildly. Professional sports, as well as personal sports such as surfing, scuba diving, parasailing, hiking, and cycling, are all safe and welcome conversation topics. Avoid discussing politics, religion, or the Australians' treatment of Aboriginal cultures.
- Keep in mind that because Australia is below the equator, the seasons are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere. The hottest summer months are November through March, and winter is June through August. However, the climate differs widely within the country itself, which ranges from arid to subtropical.
- If you venture outside metropolitan areas during your stay, take plenty of water, your cell phone, and other safety supplies (such as a kangaroo bar for the front of your car). If you get lost or run out of gas, don't leave your car, as dehydration is a major risk in the outback. Also, make sure that someone always knows where you're going and when you'll return.
Australia is a large, culturally diverse country with 85 percent of the population located on the coast.
To succeed with your Australian team, don't boast about past successes or current qualifications. Be humble, self-deprecating, and down to earth. You'll get along best with your team members by giving them autonomy over their work and by taking a hands-off or transformational leadership approach.