Expat Life

Review: Australian Culture and the Workplace

Australian Culture and the Workplace book cover.I visit my local library two or three times a month. Browsing, I came across this little book and I had to share it. G’day Boss!: Australian Culture and the Workplace, by Barbara A. West and Frances T. Murphy, is a study into the diverse cultural environments of Australian workplaces. It is specifically aimed at migrants seeking to understand, adapt, and succeed in the Australian workplace.

The authors acknowledge that discussions about culture require a degree of generalising, but they avoid stereotyping and present guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The book includes the voices of migrants as well as of Australian workers. Sometimes they humorously contradict because everyone experiences their new culture in comparison to their own. For example, on tone and volume:

France to Australian perspective

My workplace is so loud! It was the first thing I noticed about working in Australia; people are so loud. It really disturbed my inner self.

United States to Australian perspective

I can always hear other US-Americans in public because we are so loud! My advice to them: turn down the volume when you’re in public because Australia is a much quieter place.

Chapter 1 is a general introduction to the book. Chapter 2 provides an explanation of terms used throughout the book such as ‘culture’ and ‘adaptation’. Chapter 3 defines values and begins on Australian value contrasts, beliefs, and behaviours. Chapters 4-7 explore these different value contrasts. Chapters 8-10 examine communication.

At just 135 pages (including the appendix and bibliography), this little book is packed with useful information. Here are some of the findings that surprised me most.

Australians may be informal (compared to Americans) and socialising is really important, but hierarchy still matters.

Australians love to laugh and joke and the workplace is no exception. First names are commonly used and many migrants with foreign or complicated names soon find themselves nicknamed. Australians will downplay superior skills and talents (see tall poppy syndrome). The idea of equality is honoured and status alone won’t earn you any kudos. The boss is likely to be at happy hour on Friday evening (and you are expected to show up for drinks and be prepared to talk about sports, preferably footy if you’re in Melbourne), but this should not be mistaken for a lack of hierarchy. The boss is still the boss and you should know your place even if it’s never explicitly detailed.

Australians may like to argue, but conflict is addressed indirectly or not at all.

When I say argue, I mean banter and debate. It’s okay to express your ideas about politics, religion, and race. However, conflicts at work are not easily addressed. According to the authors, “Criticism of people’s work is often given indirectly or through back channels rather than face to face.” Instead, criticism is spread like a rumour to other employees and, if you’re lucky, it will reach you. I’ve had a number of Australian friends confirm they have experienced this.

She’ll be right.

I guess this one shouldn’t surprise me, but it does, and it certainly explains why I see so many signs, menus, and other forms of publicly displayed writing containing spelling and grammatical errors. The idea is that if the big picture is clear, the details needn’t be perfect. So, try to relax, my dear fellow anal-retentive, workaholic Americans.

The primary focus is on the present.

Australia tends to be present and short-term oriented. There is greater emphasis on short-term jobs and current economic models rather than long-term orientation. The authors point out that even the government’s immigration policy is guided by Australia’s immediate needs. Australians prefer to let events unfold over having an explicit plan. I’ve heard frustration from Australian community managers about how some clients don’t want to plan for even six months ahead.

G’day Boss! offers terrific insight into Australian culture, values, behaviours, and communications in the workplace. I highly recommend it for anyone working or intending to work in Australia.

Are you an expat working in Australia? How has working in Australia compared to working back in your home country? Have you found any of these points to be true? Do you have any tips for expats entering the Australian workforce?

Comments

comments

  • I find this really interesting and pretty spot-on with my experiences working as a Yank in Australia. I think the “she’ll be right” issue is the one that Americans tend to struggle with the most (frustrated grammar Nazi here – guilty as charged!).
    Really got a kick out of the different opinions on volume – shows you how different even seemingly similar cultures can be.

    • Cosette

      Yes, the book is full of funny little comparisons like that. It all depends on our cultural lens.

  • Thank you for your review! The book is currently out of print but we hope to get a new, updated version out into the marketplace soon. And if you’re interested in learning more, contact us at http://www.cultureworks.com.au. Thank you again!

    • Cosette Paneque

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a link to the site. It’s a great book. I look forward to the new edition.