Five culture 'shocks' of working in Australia

Chris Sheedy By Chris Sheedy, CA Today

5 January 2016

At a recent dinner in Sydney, our ICAS members Down Under told us (mostly with a grin) that a move to Australia is not without culture shock. Here are the top five issues they have been cruelly forced to face!

1. Fashion faux pas

Short-sleeved shirts are perfectly acceptable in the office over a Scottish summer, several ICAS members in Australia agree. But in a Sydney scorcher? Forget about it! So when you’re on your way to Australia, don’t stock up on short-sleeved work shirts in Asia.

But it’s not all about formality. Anne Keogh CA, Group Financial Controller of pay TV operator Foxtel, says it’s great that females do not have to wear stockings year-round.

“Skirt and tops are fine, whereas in the UK I would rarely go to work not wearing some type of suit jacket. In the UK guys in audit would always wear a tie too, whereas open-neck shirts are more normal here.”

2. Foul language

“Australians definitely swear more,” says Catherine Irving CA, registered tax agent with C Eye Tax & Accounting. “I still can’t get my head around it!”

This issue has also been brought up by expats from several other nations, but appears to be gradually changing. Very rude words are being heard less regularly in business meetings, but terms such as ‘bloody’ and ‘b****rd’ are rarely seen as offensive. In fact, calling someone a ‘b****rd’ is often, in Australia, intended and received as a term of endearment.

Other quirks of language include the constant use of the word ‘mate’, which sometimes means the opposite to what you might think, depending on how it is used.

And don’t believe the media’s representation of the stereotypical Australian, our members say. It’s rare to find a city-dwelling Australian who uses words like ‘strides’, ‘sheilas’, ‘fair dinkum’, ‘you beaut’ and ‘bonzer’ etc.

Also, you will need to make small adjustments to your lexicon to be understood. For example, ‘granary’ bread is known in Australia as ‘multi-grain’, and beer is served in ‘schooners’ in NSW and ‘pots’ in Victoria.

3. Accessible management

Open-door policies with management are the norm in the Australian work environment, Anne says. “In the UK we always had to make an appointment with a partner or senior manager’s secretary if we wanted to meet with them,” she adds.

“My experience in audit here is much more open-door. Partners are happy for you to pop in for a quick chat if needs be.”

4. Caffeine hits

Catherine has noticed one other interesting quirk in the Australian workplace. In Scotland she was generally entitled to one break in the morning and one break in the afternoon for a tea or coffee. That was it.

“Here in Australia I can get up from my desk and go out for a coffee any time,” she says. “In Scotland that would have been frowned upon.”

5. Early birds

Don’t take the coffee breaks as an indication of poor work ethic. Aussies work as hard as they caffeinate! Anne says early starts are fairly normal in Australia.

“In the UK, being in the office at 8.30am seemed early, particularly in winter, and you never left before 5pm,” Anne comments.

“However, earlier starts and finishes are more acceptable in NZ/Australia. I was baffled by someone in audit who liked to be in the office every day at 7am, but it was so they could get away for netball/volleyball practice. This was another mystery when I first arrived, as it seemed men regularly played these sports, also!”

Healthy after-work pursuits, rather than just going to the pub, are in fact quite typical in Australia, Anne adds.

Speaking of sport, you’ll soon figure out that Victoria is crazy about AFL, but in NSW rugby league dominates. Football is broadly known as ‘soccer’, although that is changing. The English Premier League is far more popular in Australia than the local A-League, and if you’re after an in-depth conversation about the action in the Scottish Professional Football League, you’re likely to end up talking to yourself.

Image credit: Boyloso /

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.


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