Australian Workplace Culture – A Guide To Improving The Culture of Growing Australian Businesses

September 2, 2020
The Culture Equation
Australian Workplace Culture – A Guide To Improving The Culture of Growing Australian Businesses

All About The Australian Workplace Culture

Wondering what an Australian workplace culture is like? 

The startup workplace culture in Australia is exciting, unique, and challenging in several ways.

Perhaps the rest of the world typically sees us as laid-back, but the reality is the Australian workforce is a pool of committed, innovative, and hard-working people. But like any workplace culture, startups have their own challenges and opportunities to evolve and improve.

Statistics speak…

According to the State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report, — in Australia and New Zealand, only 20% of employees said they feel engaged, and 45% experience daily stress. The report measures a wide range of indicators on the health of the workplace culture across the globe. And whilst Australia is doing better in some areas, there are clearly several gaps to close.

Australian Workplace culture stats

Besides engagement and stress, 57% of employees in Australia and New Zealand said they are thriving. That’s almost 1 in 2 people who feel as though they are stagnant or regressing. And although fast-growing startups are dynamic and thriving in nature, designing and implementing a culture for the future will create the best environment for your people to thrive and be their most productive.

A recent LinkedIn poll the team at The Culture Equation conducted, revealed that over 50% of executives and managers believe that Leadership Team Cohesion is the most important factor in workplace culture. And 27% believed that Values & Purpose is the most important factor. But is there more to it than that? We’ll explore that later on.

In this guide, we’ll cover the following:

  • An overview of the Australian workplace culture
  • Strengths of the Australian workplace culture
  • Challenges facing the Australian workplace culture
  • Impact of a great workplace culture
  • Opportunities & solutions

Before we dive into some of the general notions people have about the Australian workplace culture, it’s important to remember that what really shapes an organisation’s culture is its people, leadership, vision and values.

And what that means is every business has its own unique culture and so, the success of your organisation significantly depends on how you create a culture that is individual to your team and business.

Overview | The Australian Workplace Culture

Thongs (Flip-flops for the American folks) at work, early rise, work-life balance, a bit of candour, and coffee meetings even if there’s no intention to do business? We certainly have our own ways of doing things at the workplace.

And, although the workplace culture in Australia, especially in metropolitan cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, is influenced by workers bringing who they are to work with them, we have distinct differences to our overseas counterparts.

Some people would say it’s your luck who you get as your boss, but specific company culture factors along with the leadership team and other external factors play a major role in the employee experience and ultimately, the success of the business.

If you’re a senior executive or a junior employee just breaking into the Australian workplace, the Aussie fast-growing startup culture might be just what you’ve wanted to be a part of. Or it might be a little challenging and difficult to mold into.

Common Notions | The Australian Workplace Culture

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that our workplace culture can’t be summarised in a few sentences. However, from our own experiences and research, the following points give interesting insights about who we are when it comes to workplace culture.

1. We give everyone a fair go

For us Australians, we believe in the right to a “fair go” regardless of a person’s background. Everyone should be treated with respect, equality, and fairness. And everyone should be given the opportunity to shine and succeed.

2. We play by the rules

Australia is governed by several laws and regulations that guide fair work and employment.

These laws play a major role in equal job opportunities and ensuring employees feel safe and comfortable in their workplaces. For instance, if you are unfortunate enough to need them, there are specific procedures for firing and laying off employees. You can’t just let go of people. Employees also have legal options to sue employers for wrongful termination. There are also strict anti-discrimination and office behaviour laws.

3. We are easy-going, and we keep it casual (even in a business setting!)

We’re “laid back” and “easy going” as long as the work is getting done and policies are being followed. Flexibility is important to Australians more than ever.

Got the job done? You can leave an hour early today to pick up the kids. We don’t need to know where employees are at all times. The most important thing is that we meet our goals and achieve the milestones our businesses set forth. Having measurements to ensure this is manageable is key to the success of flexibility.

Casual conversations are part and parcel of business conversations. Meetings don’t need to be serious and are often filled with banter and a friendly vibe. We often crack a joke or two to ease the tension and break the ice. If something goes wrong, we prefer not to stress and whine about it. We recognise the seriousness, but we often choose banter to ease things up. Having a set of values as the guiding principles for how to behave is important to this. What is ok within your team and how will you know if something isn’t ok?

4. We speak our minds

Australians pride themselves on being straight shooters. We don’t usually hold back. We speak our mind. And perhaps it can come at a cost sometimes but being genuine and straightforward is part of who we are. We’d rather say it to your face than have you find out from someone else.

We don’t not shy away from expressing our opinions, and we don’t have as much consideration for hierarchy or seniority as other cultures.

All employees want to have their input and thoughts heard, and we generally encourage others to speak their mind, no matter the hierarchical rank. We believe that everyone should be heard regardless of their seniority or role in the workplace.

5. We place value on our personal wellness

Work is a big part of our lives, but it’s not all of it. We value personal time and personal wellness. Part of that goes into spending time with our colleagues, taking coffee breaks, having after-work drinks. We want to know each other as human beings.

In some countries, the work culture is a little bit different. People separate work from their personal lives. In Australia, friends at work are often also friends outside work hours and employees will respect leaders who share their vulnerabilities. 

Equally important, we are relatively quite active and allocate more time to physical exercise and “away-from-work” time.

6. We prioritise mateship

Our mates are a crucial part of our lives. Our culture embodies equality, loyalty, and friendship, all of which are a major part of who we are. And so, it is important that the qualities of a good friendship are mimicked within an employee-leader relationship. Respect, two way conversation, listening, understanding, kindness and encouragement are all qualities that come to mind.

7. We value work-life balance & family time

And last but least, we appreciate family time. We take our work and careers very seriously. But we’re equally serious about family time and ensuring there’s a healthy balance between our careers and family. The strong desire to have a healthy work lifestyle is deeply embedded in our culture. At the end of the day, why would someone work if they can’t spend time with their family and loved ones?

Strengths | The Australian Workplace Culture

1. No higher education? No problem!

Don’t have a higher education degree? No worries. We think it’s great, but we don’t make the ultimate decision on your capability or job fit by how many degrees you hold. Of course, there are occupations that require certification and accreditations, but across many disciplines, higher education is not a must, and we don’t look at candidates differently if they don’t hold one. After all, Elon Musk and some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs don’t require a higher education degree when hiring. So why should we?

What is more important is how we think. Our problem solving abilities, how we build relationships, how we manage conflict and the view we have on our own growth. A growth mindset is the key to unlock success.

2. Executives have an open-door mentality

In some parts of the world business leaders are less accessible. But in Australia, we have much fewer boundaries and constraints when it comes to communicating with executives. There’s generally more transparency and open lines of communication between those at the top of the organisation and everyone else. And when there’s not, employees will demand it. They want to know they have the ability to initiate change and make a difference.

Many Australian companies don’t have offices for executives. Leaders just sit amongst everyone else. So, whether it’s an idea, a complaint, or a suggestion, it’s a lot easier to reach the executive team. This is also reinforced by the fact that most Australian businesses are smaller in size compared to other nations.

3. There’s less hierarchy in the workplace

Compared to other countries, Australians don’t place as much value on office hierarchy. In most offices, employees enjoy the same treatment. There’s a strong emphasis on the team instead of any high-ranking individual.

4. We trust our subordinates and colleagues

Employers and managers tend to have more trust in employees compared to other parts of the world. We trust our teams to manage their workloads and take on more responsibilities, it’s not so much about how they get there, but the outcome they produce. And so, micro-management is an irritant for employees in Australia and can create burnout and higher levels of stress across the business.

Challenges | The Australian Workplace Culture

As mentioned earlier, we have our own unique set of challenges when it comes to workplace culture. The first step to overcome our challenges is to really understand what they are and where they perhaps stem from. The following are five main challenges we see common across a large portion of Australian businesses.

1. Disengagement

Disengagement kills creativity and loyalty amongst several other critical states your teams need to have to be highly functional. Recent studies show that only 20% of Australian employees said they feel engaged. That seems to be one of the biggest challenges facing Australian employers in 2021 and for the next 3 – 5 years.

2. Stress at work

We’re laid back, but that doesn’t mean we are NOT stressed. The State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report suggests that 45% of the Australian workforce experience daily stress.

3. Job security made us a bit too comfortable

Several decades of steady job creation supported by migration and boom in a few industries combined with a small population got us a tad bit lazy compared to other nations.

Job security is a great thing for us as a nation. But it’s not a positive thing for fast-growing organisations looking to make a dent in the world. When job security is high, there is less of an incentive for employees to become a “star performer”.

Our rate of innovation is one of the highest in the world and this can be a great, but challenging place for growing companies. An overall sense of job security can sometimes influence us to do “just enough” rather than consistently going the extra mile. And perhaps for local businesses, “just enough” is, well, enough. But for businesses looking to compete globally, we need to do more.

On the flip side of job security we have our highly skilled X-Factor talent looking for the next opportunity. They want to join fast growing companies that have a strong purpose and vision and that will help them grow as leaders. How can we attract the top talent if we allow the rest of our team to live in their comfort zone?

4. The tall poppy syndrome

We still have an issue with self-promotion. Perhaps it’s deeply embedded in who we are but talking about your background, capabilities, and achievements is not what we wake up to do. We feel more comfortable letting our work speak for itself.

And although this humble mindset is good in some ways, it can also present some challenges at work. For instance, if a leader or an executive doesn’t know what you’re really good at or have achieved, there are missed opportunities for both the employer and the employee.

5. Proximity & logistics

The newfound work-from-home arrangement most employees have in Australia during the pandemic has brought new challenges. 85% of professionals want their current flexible working arrangements to continue, but 60% of business leaders said productivity was why they did not want to continue with flexible working.

The Impact of a Workplace Culture

So, how much impact does a workplace culture really have on your organisation? Here are three main areas it impacts.

1. Healthcare cost

In the US, 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job, according to the American Psychology Association. Health care expenditures at organisations where employees are stressed are nearly 50% greater than at other organisations.

2. Absenteeism & productivity

Engagement is, for the most part, attributed to feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected. Disengagement has a significant downside for organisations. For instance, when people feel disengaged, they tend to have higher levels of stress.

Studies show evidence that disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Businesses that have low employee engagement scores typically experience 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.

On the flip side, businesses with highly engaged employees receive 100% more job applications. Are your employees referring their friends to work at your business?

Engagement is a critical KPI to measure and improve.

3. Innovation and growth

Stress and low engagement can kill the innovation and creative output of businesses. Stress, by default, puts us in a state of fight or flight. Our creative functions are submerged and diluted when we feel unsafe, unappreciated, or unheard.

Companies that foster a positive workplace culture typically achieve more with less. Their employees are able to produce better ideas, strategies, and products. And the result? Your organisation is able to compete, innovate and disrupt much more effectively.

Opportunities & Solutions

A strong culture is the only way to unlock your company’s full potential.

Toxic cultures tend to be common in organisations that don’t have the clear values to guide behaviours. Your company might have the best product in the market or some of the brightest people, but is that enough? Studies show that toxic cultures kill growth. Don’t let a toxic culture creep up through a lack of planning for your culture.

Equally important, the candidates you want to hire are looking for organisations that have a strong workplace culture. A leadership team that isn’t moving in the same direction will be a threat to your success. And, if you end up hiring the wrong people, it will come at a major cost to your business.

Your culture is essentially defined in the
of your leadership team.

Now, it begs to ask, do you believe you have the culture and leadership foundations for the growth you want to see in the next 3 years? If so, that’s great news. If the answer is “not sure” or “maybe”, then the good news is we might just have the right solution for you.

The team of Culture Consultants at The Culture Equation has meticulously designed world-class Culture Transformation Programs for fast-growing organisations. Here’s a glimpse of our 3 main programs:

1. Culture Foundations

You have started to think about the growth of your team. It’s time to start by building what you will be known for as an organisation and what success will look like for your future team. 

Ideal for: Organisations of 5-50 employees

2. Culture Design

You have defined your values and purpose and now want to design how these behaviours filter through every leader and into every decision made in your team.

Ideal for: organisations of 50-100 employees

3. Culture Implementation

You and your leadership team are working cohesively and are consistent in your approach. Implementing these unwritten rules into the written is crucial for your culture to stick and attract, retain and develop the best talent.

Ideal for: organisations of 100-400 employees

Want to learn more about these programs?

Speak to a Culture Transformation Consultant now!

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Culture and the Talent Flywheel – Attracting and Retaining Talent

Join us this Tuesday, 8th June 2023 at the Tank Stream Talent to gain invaluable insights and practical strategies to understand and evolve your workplace culture effectively. Don’t miss this opportunity to take actionable steps towards transforming your organization. Register now to secure your spot!

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