Business etiquette: Australia vs UK
Are you aware of the potential business etiquette traps Down Under?
Short-sleeved business shirts…
In many parts of the world, including the UK and Asia, they are perfectly acceptable garments. In Australia, nothing will destroy one’s professional reputation more quickly. It may be the land of eternal sunshine, but in Australia a short-sleeved business shirt will leave you out in the cold.
“Short-sleeved business shirts do not look professional,” explained Treska Roden, business etiquette coach from Corporate Protocol International. But apart from the odd, major fashion faux pas, Treska illustrated, differences in dress etiquette between the UK and Australia are quite subtle.
“The British are a little bit more reserved than Australians,” she told us. “That works its way through all aspects of life, and certainly business.”
Why are short-sleeved shirts such a no-no in Australian offices?
Simple, traditional colours, such as blue and white, are far more popular and acceptable in Australian offices than lighter shades of yellow, orange or pink.
“It's important to note that the underlying culture for men in Australia is macho,” said Anna Musson, etiquette expert and founder of The Good Manners Company. “So, while Australian men are very happy to put gel in their hair and look very smart, they will not wear a short-sleeved shirt.”
Still on the topic of shirts for men, Anna also points out that simple, traditional colours, such as blue and white, are far more popular and acceptable in Australian offices than lighter shades of yellow, orange or pink. Avoid pastels, she recommended.
And while Brits and Australians both dress fairly casually, Brits are more interested in designer labels.
Opinions and restraint
According to Treska, Australians are more likely to offer strong opinions in meetings. Australians will also begin every meeting with small talk about sport, what they did on the weekend, or the weather, before they get down to business.
In comparison, Brits tend to be less forthcoming with opinions and quicker to start the ‘business’ part of a business meeting.
The sense of humour differs, with British people revealing more of a “dry wit” compared to the “louder and more brash” humour of Australians.
Generally, you’ll find that Australian society, including business, is more level, more egalitarian.
“Our foundations are British, so the differences really are minor,” said Treska. “But generally, you’ll find that Australian society, including business, is more level, more egalitarian. That influences the way managers behave at work, and the open access that junior staff will have to senior executives etc. That can be a surprise for Brits.”
Anna agreed that the cultural difference between the UK and Australia is slight.
“In daily life we begin to see little things, such as the British greeting, ‘How do you do?’,” she explained. “An Australian is likely to respond by saying, ‘I’m well, thanks’. Actually, the correct response is, ‘How do you do?’ or ‘Pleased to meet you’.”
A typical greeting in Australian offices, as staff come together each day, is more likely to be, “How’s it going?”, said Anna.
Class structure and atmosphere
Anna described the less structured social environment in Australia as “laid back”.
“It’s a flat class structure where essentially the person with the most money wins,” she said. “Everyone is ‘mate’, and it is not unusual to hear someone referred to as ‘mate’ in a business context.
“Language is a lot more relaxed, we are a lot less formal in the workplace and chivalry is definitely on the decline, as it potentially is in the UK. Yes, it’s lovely for a gentleman to hold the door for a lady or for any other person, but not all Australian women appreciate the gesture.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.