Working in “Straya” AKA Australia

By APAC Marketing Manager Udeet Datta

Ask any native of Australia where they are from and you may hear “Straya”. The “S” is emphasized ever so gently while the annunciation of the rest of the word is delivered rapidly. I spent close to a decade in this beautiful country and can safely say it was one of the best experiences of my life. Of course, not everyone enjoys the brutal heat (50 degrees centigrade is a possibility), Vegemite is truly an acquired taste (that I learnt to adore) and harbouring the world’s deadliest animals, insects and sea creatures is not something that bodes well for some.

The cons, however, are outnumbered by a multitude of pros. For one, Australia is home to a range of beautiful locations. With the glowing outback that surrounds Uluru, the world’s largest coral reef systems that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, the pristine forest of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and the glorious cityscape of Sydney Harbour and Bondi beach, there are numerous sites for the eyes to behold. Besides their own brand of beers, spirits and wines, Australia’s vibrant mix of ethnicities makes way for a plethora of culinary delicacies and street food that must be experienced. They even have their own take on sports with their national past time, Aussie Rules Football. Something that always stood out to me was the fact that Australians have even made English their own with phrase likes “Fair Dinkum” for something that is true or genuine, “Dunnie” for an outdoor lavatory and the ever-popular “Barbie” for Barbecue (though I am sure Barbie dolls are prolific throughout the country as well).

The one universally-recognized attribute that is unique to Australia is the laid-back Aussie attitude. “No worries mate” resonated in the country’s social space and within the workplace. Make no mistake though. The attitude may be a little relaxed but the Aussie spirit encompasses strength and determination. Australia boasts highly developed, modern cities with formidable professional, corporate and business sectors that cover a range of industry verticals. Behind this seemingly laid-back attitude lies driven, hard-working individuals that have made Australia one of the most successful economies in the world. Australia has grown successfully and consistently for 27 years, without any economic recession. This is no small feat and is a testament of the drive that is inherent within the citizens that make up this beautiful country. One would have to be curious as to what it would be like to work amongst individuals of this caliber who possess that unique blend of persistent drive, fused with nonchalance.

Uniquely genuine

I found that there is a good mix of normal and eccentric in terms of describing the profile of an Aussie workplace, or worker for that matter. For example, in some of the organisations I worked in, you would actually be considered over-eager if you showed up too early for work. In parallel, lateness is frowned upon. Meetings are kept short, sharp and to the point though a lunch meeting may begin with casual talk. At the average business meeting in an Australian café, you may even hear a good amount of laughter. Why? Humour, I found, was actually key to work conversations and this applied, and still applies, to business meetings or even a chat between accountants at the office.

Another interesting attribute that is unique to the Aussie employee is the ability to speak their mind and ask as many questions they need to. Some societies see questions as an implication of weakness and find only supervisors, and above, having the confidence to be more direct than the rest. In Australia, these personality traits are found in employees at all levels. Moreover, employees are expected to feel free to disagree and voice opinions where required even if it means challenging the status quo. This is something that is not necessarily welcome in other parts of the world.

Generally, despite the slight oddities that exist, I found that if you are genuine in the way you work and communicate openly at the office, you should enjoy working life. There is always the need to demonstrate professionalism but it doesn’t always have to be so stiff. Arriving at the office at 6AM may not get a lot of smiles. Still, the most you would get for doing that is a cheeky remark. I found that although they always got the job done, an Aussie who takes himself, or herself, too seriously was a rarity.

A walking contradiction?

As with all workplaces, there are a few negative stigmas that follow the Aussie way of life. For one, like other parts of the Western world, there can be an apparent lack of diversity in Aussie workplaces. The 2018 – 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Report by Hays argues that 63% of Australian workers believe that their professional progression has been disrupted at least once in their career because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, gender or a disability. A further 56% of respondents believe that their chance of acquiring employment within certain establishments were diminished because of these very factors. This is quite astonishing considering the significantly diverse ethnic mix that makes up Australia, the higher numbers in women when compared to men, the fact that older individuals make up a significant proportion of Australia and finally, that 1 in 5 people in Australia have some form of physical disability.

Moreover, a report by the Australian found that employees suffer from anxiousness that could lead to burnout at the workplace. The keywords within the survey conducted indicated a lack of resilience, with over 60 factors were tested in this regard. It was found that one of the causes was that the typical Australian workplace deals with constant change on a more than normal basis. The causes for such changes included new systems being introduced, restructures and even international competition entering these markets. It was also argued that Australian workers are concerned about their futures. Perhaps these issues are the result of a lack of top-down communication in terms of how to react to change. Left unaddressed, constant change in a work environment can lead to insecurity which will inevitably result in stress. Hence it should be no surprise that work-related stress takes second-place when it comes to compensated illnesses/injuries in Australia.

Stress, anxiousness and a lack of diversity contradict the laid-back Aussie persona, doesn’t it? One can perhaps take solace in the fact that, as with all workplaces in, perfection is an ideal that is chased but never reached.

Never stop chasing success

Measures can be taken to alleviate the different pain points. As the head of your organisation, who has now noticed diversity bias occurring, there are steps you can take to overcome this nearly immediately. The same steps can be applied to relieving concerns when it comes to constant change. It first starts with creating communication with your team and within your organization. Everyone within your organization needs to know everything that is going on that is pertinent to their day-to-day operations, individual performance and professional growth. Open communication will result in trust. By creating a psychologically safe space for everyone to be vulnerable, to trust and support one another, bias will have to fade away.

Australian employees are not the only ones dealing with constant change. This is a global epidemic and we are seeing the effects. Over the last 30 years, the pace of change in the workplace has shifted from infrequent to constant and employees report:

  • Change fatigue
  • Unclear expectations
  • Not knowing how to operate in this new environment, and
  • An inability to disconnect from work.

Our research on the topic documents this in great detail. We are working to overcome these issues for our partners, clients and peers.

You beauty

Australia is an integral part of the APAC region and based on my experience, is truly filled with honest, genuine people who have created a unique living and working culture. The spirit of the Aussie office and its employees is a positive one overall. There are a few kinks to fix, but isn’t this the case with pretty much every workplace on the planet? Removing the brutal heat or deadly fauna may be a little challenging.

AchieveForum is dedicated to this endeavour of overcoming the various drawbacks that exist, and issues like resilience and constant change are themes that we address on a daily basis. In fact, our Aussie office in Sydney exists for just that. The driven, yet “unique” individuals that make this office the awesome place that it is are there to support anyone who comes knocking. We are your partners in ensuring your learning journey to becoming the best leader you can be doesn’t end. Feel free to get in touch anytime and if we help you achieve your leadership development goals, throw a “You beauty” in our direction so we can say “Cheers mate”.

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