Managing in New Zealand
Working in a Friendly, Outgoing Culture
Two strangers, with eyes closed and hands clasped, touch forehead to forehead and nose to nose. They breathe gently, in and out.
The gesture is intimate and respectful, and although each person is silent, it seems as if they're communicating deeply. When they open their eyes and take a step back, you can almost feel the connection between them.
You've just witnessed the traditional Māori greeting in New Zealand, called the hongi. In this sacred act, people exchange their ha, or "breath of life," with another person.
Such an intimate greeting might feel foreign to many other cultures, but it's just one of the things that make New Zealand such an interesting and distinctive country.
In this article, we'll look at what it's like to live and work in New Zealand. We'll also see what you need to do to manage a team of New Zealanders successfully.
Keep in mind that this is only a general guide. The workforce in New Zealand is culturally diverse, so you should use your best judgment when doing business in this country.
People, Land, and Culture
New Zealand consists of a large number of islands that lie about 1,000 miles off the southeast coast of Australia. However, only two – the North Island and South Island – are widely populated, with three-quarters of the total population living on the North Island.
Generally, the North Island is considered to be cosmopolitan, while the South Island is said to be more relaxed.
New Zealand is around 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia.
The Māori people were the first inhabitants of New Zealand. In the 1840s, they signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British government, essentially agreeing to share the land with Britain. Today the Māori are a core part of New Zealand's identity and rich culture. They place great importance on humility and honesty, and this affects the values of the nation as a whole.
Today, 70 percent of New Zealanders are of European descent, while indigenous Māori make up 15 percent of the population. There is also a growing population of people of Asian descent.
New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori, and NZ Sign Language. English is widely spoken throughout the country, however, people also refer to many islands, territories, and landmarks by their Māori names. For example, the Māori people call New Zealand "Aotearoa," which translates as "land of the long white cloud," and locals often use this name.
Because of New Zealand's isolation for 80 million years, much of the flora and fauna are unique to the island. A good example of this is the Kiwi, a flightless bird that has become a national icon (New Zealanders often refer to themselves as "Kiwis.")
The World Bank has previously rated New Zealand as one of the most business-friendly nations in the world, and the government has worked hard to make the country attractive to foreign investors. As a result, many large organizations have a presence here, and this has created a stable and thriving workforce. In August 2018, however, the New Zealand government announced that it would be banning foreign investors from buying property in a bid to curb skyrocketing house prices, with average costs rising by 60 percent over the past decade alone.
As of July 2011, all employers are required to have an employment agreement with their workers. Employees do not have to sign these, but they must receive a copy.
Most employees are entitled to five days' paid sick leave per year after six months of continuous work, and a further five days after each subsequent year. There is no limit to how much sick leave a person can accrue.
The law grants expectant mothers 10 days' leave for medical appointments and prenatal classes before they give birth. Parents are entitled to 14 weeks' paid leave or up to 52 weeks' unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The law also allows employees to share or transfer some or all of their leave to a partner. (To qualify for most types of parental leave, employees need to have worked for an average of 10 hours a week for more than six months, for the same employer.)
New Zealand and Australia maintain close political ties, and both countries have free trade and travel agreements that allow citizens from both countries to live, work, and travel back and forth. As a result of this open relationship, 650,000 New Zealanders live and work in Australia, while 65,000 Australians live and work in New Zealand.
Visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation, & Employment website to learn more about employment law in New Zealand.
Working Hours, Vacations, and Holidays
Office hours in New Zealand are typically 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and people are entitled to four weeks' paid leave each year. This entitlement doesn't include public holidays, which are also paid.
These public holidays are:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Day after New Year's Day – January 2.
- Waitangi Day – February 6.
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (April 19 in 2019; April 10 in 2020.)
- Easter Monday – Date changes each year (April 22 in 2019; April 13 in 2020.)
- ANZAC Day – April 25.
- Queen's Birthday – first Monday in June (June 3 in 2019.)
- Labour Day – fourth Monday in October (October 22 in 2018; October 28 in 2019)
- Provincial Anniversary Day – Date determined locally.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
- Boxing Day – December 26.
All public holidays can be "Mondayised." In other words, in years when a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, employees who do not ordinarily work on that day will be able to take the following Monday as a paid day off. Employees who would usually work on that Saturday or Sunday can take the actual day off, or another day that they arrange with their employer.
Getting the Best From Your Team
You'll likely find it easy to build a good relationship with your team in New Zealand. But making a good first impression is important, so, when you meet a new colleague or business associate, smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake.
Many New Zealanders care little about wealth and social status. To reward team members, praise their hard work, talents, or accomplishments. Be sincere and specific about what they did well, and thank them for what they're doing.
People in New Zealand also value honesty and humility, especially in leaders. Be clear about your skills and expertise, but don't brag or boast about your achievements (New Zealanders refer to this as "skite," and they frown upon it.) You'll make a better impression if you're humble, if you keep your promises, if you're honest, and if you lead by example.
Your team members might be a bit reserved at first, so give them time to get to know you. Show that you have a sense of humor, and don't be overly formal. Keep in mind that New Zealanders are often independent, so don't micromanage your team members – instead, give them the time and freedom that they need to do their work as they see fit.
Also, don't try to get people on board with a new project or initiative until you have all the relevant information in place. New Zealanders tend to look at facts before emotions when they make a decision, so you'll need to persuade people with good research and high quality data.
New Zealand is a social welfare state, and most people care deeply about the health and welfare of society as a whole. Gain the trust of your new team members by making sure that they have a healthy workplace, and by helping out when someone falls behind or has to stay late.
Although you're the key decision-maker as a manager, treat your team members as equals. Ask for their input, and involve them when you make decisions.
Managers often socialize with team members, especially on Fridays (called "Friday Fives") when colleagues gather after work to share a drink. When invited, get involved with your team socially: this is a great way to build relationships and develop trust.
In New Zealand, business dress can vary: in many sectors it may be formal, in the IT sector it can be smart casual, and younger business people may wear a suit with the top shirt button open. If you're unsure what's most appropriate for your situation, it's best to dress smartly in a dark-colored suit (with a tie), pantsuit, or skirt.
Always be on time or early for appointments and meetings, as, like people in many other cultures, New Zealanders consider lateness rude. Schedule appointments for longer meetings at least a week in advance, if you can.
New Zealanders love to entertain in their homes, even for business, so they'll probably invite you to dinner or a weekend barbecue. Be sure to arrive on time, dress casually, and bring a small gift of flowers or chocolates for the host or hostess. Do not discuss business during dinner, unless your host or hostess brings the topic up.
New Zealanders often speak softly, and can find emphatic voices annoying or rude. So, don't speak loudly with colleagues or team members, and learn to control your emotions.
Also, keep in mind that the Māori have different protocols from other New Zealanders. If you plan to do business with Māori people, ask someone to guide you through their customs and language. It's easy to cause offense by mispronouncing words, or by showing respect to elders incorrectly.
Further Tips for Managing in New Zealand
- Most New Zealanders have a passion for the outdoors. Hiking, fishing, windsurfing, kayaking, rowing, and rugby are popular pursuits, and all are excellent topics for conversation.
- Avoid conversations about New Zealand's treatment of the Māori people, and don't discuss racial tensions.
- The weather and temperature can change quickly in New Zealand, so always have a raincoat or warm jacket on hand. January and February are the warmest months of the year, while July is the coldest.
- New Zealand experiences very little air pollution compared with the rest of the world, and the clear atmosphere makes the sun's UV rays particularly intense. Wear sun block, even in the colder months.
- Although the relationship between New Zealand and Australia is strong, the two countries are fierce rivals. Don't praise Australia excessively, and never confuse the two countries. Also, many foreigners have a hard time distinguishing the accents of New Zealanders and Australians. Never try to guess where someone is from; if you get it wrong, you'll likely offend the speaker!
- Most New Zealanders care deeply about environmentalism, and the government works hard to protect the country's natural beauty and resources. Recycle when you're in the country, and never toss trash on the street.
Working in New Zealand is similar to working in other Western-influenced countries. However, there are some important differences that you need to be aware of to manage a team successfully.
You'll likely find your New Zealand team members friendly and open, but give them time to get to know you. Don't micromanage them, and reward them by praising their accomplishments and hard work.
To build trust, be honest, keep your promises, and lead by example.