On the surface, Australians and Brits may seem to have much in common: language, heritage, a love of cricket and rugby, foreign travel, dry humour. But there are inevitable cultural differences – many of which both sides can learn from.
Both cultures are guilty of a certain snobbery. Brits might have a stereotypical view of Australians as brash and uncultured, while Australians see Brits as snooty and uptight. Australians may view themselves as cool and rebellious, more laid back, with a superior climate and a healthier lifestyle, while Brits see themselves as more worldly and sophisticated, with a long and rich cultural heritage.
2. Fair play
Brits and Australians both share a sense of fair play. Both cultures dislike loudness and boastfulness in a business situation and would be likely to ridicule someone making an over-flashy presentation and wild promises. Both cultures, probably Australia more so, embrace the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, whereby anybody indulging in attention-seeking behaviour is cut back to size by the others.
Both Britain and Australia are highly multicultural, particularly in urban areas. Both cultures embrace diversity, too, with a strong focus on equal rights for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or faith.
In Australia, work spills over into social life, with regular team bonding exercises, work barbecues and work drinks – many companies have drinks in the office on Friday afternoons. Having said that, a lot of Australians drive to work so the after-work heavy drinking culture that’s endemic in Britain is lacking in Australia. Office culture in Australia tends to focus on wellness and ‘mateship’, while in Britain, the focus is on competition and productivity.
5. Time management
Australians live a more laid-back life than Brits but still value their time in business. Being on time is considered polite in both cultures. Meetings should start on time and finish on time. The two cultures differ, however, in their approach to work-life balance. British executives, like Americans, see a certain macho quality in staying late at the office, or responding to emails in the middle of the night. Australians generally have a stronger grip on work-life balance.
But British executives working with Australians should not confuse this apparently relaxed attitude with a lack of professionalism; Australians tend to work extremely hard when they are in the office in order that they can enjoy their free time.
6. Communication style
While both British and Australian cultures use fairly direct communication style, Brits have a tendency to understate what they mean and sometimes, say exactly the opposite of what they mean. In a meeting, if a British person says ‘That’s an interesting idea’, they are probably saying they don’t like the idea at all. Australians tend to be more straightforward and say exactly what they mean, which Brits can find both startling and refreshing.
Australians jokingly refer to Brits as ‘whinging Poms’, priding themselves on their can-do attitude and they’ll ‘she’ll be right’ approach to problem-solving. Australians, broadly speaking, tend to be tough, pragmatic, innovative, tolerant of change and risk and open to new ideas. Brits tend, again, broadly speaking, to have an inbuilt scepticism and might be less than effusive when presented with new ideas. Brits, though, seem more accepting of failure than Australians, viewing it as a learning opportunity rather than a personal disaster.
The British are more formal than Australians and Londoners in particular can appear frosty to a visiting Aussie. People don’t greet each other on the street or make conversation in shops. British people, it could be said, are more concerned about making a good impression than Australians, living up to their stereotype of constantly apologising and worrying about what people might think.
Australians tend to start meetings with small talk and banter, which serves as valuable relationship building, while British executives are more like Americans, preferring to get straight down to business.
Both the UK and Australia consider themselves to be meritocracies. In Australia, this is more of a reality than in Britain. While the UK’s ‘old boy network’ is far less relevant than it used to be, there are still pockets of old school connections in business, particularly in the City. Australians, on the other hand, prefer to do business with ‘mates’ and will focus on building business relationships rather than merely focusing on the bottom line.
Hierarchies in British companies can be steeper than visiting Australians may be used to. Australians may find Brits rigid and inflexible in business. Structures in Australian companies tend to be much flatter and the business environment less formal, with employees encouraged to speak their minds freely in front of their superiors – although in both countries, there are many different styles of management. Generally, though, Australians have a natural distrust of authority and will make decisions by consensus. Brits use consensus but also pride themselves on autonomy and empowerment when it comes to decision making.
The Australian market is much smaller than that of the UK and as such, a pioneering spirit exists, even in multinationals, where the Australian branch is likely to be a fraction of the size of its UK equivalent. Roles are less clearly defined, as everybody has to do everything in a smaller setup. Career progression can be quicker and many expats working in Australia say the learning opportunity there is greater, as so many companies are relatively new and innovation is encouraged.
WRITTEN BY SUE BRYANT
Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.
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