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International worker? Tips on fitting in at your Australian workplace

4 minute read
Two international students working to their Australian workplace

Australian workplaces, much like Australian classrooms, are famously laid back. We pride ourselves on being friendly and approachable and we don’t mind a bit of banter and having a joke. Above all, we value a ‘fair go’, which means that no matter who you are, if you work hard and treat everyone fairly, you deserve great opportunities.

Here are a few tips for getting ahead at work, Australian-style:

Greetings

When you greet new colleagues, it’s considered polite to smile, offer a handshake and say, “Hi, how are you?” Unlike many European countries, we only kiss on the cheek in social situations and only then if we feel comfortable doing so – it’s certainly not expected.

Punctuality

We may be laid back in attitude but not so when it comes to punctuality. Australians don’t like to be kept waiting, so always arrive at work on time, or better yet, five or 10 minutes early to settle in.

Language

Swearing: It can often shock foreigners to hear Australians swearing so casually in the workplace. But don’t be fooled, there are hidden rules around what is acceptable and with whom. While swearing in the office is generally okay in order to express frustration or emphasis, you would never swear at someone or call them names. And you would never swear in client meetings or when senior colleagues are present. This really depends on the culture of the workplace you are in – a corporate office may be very different to a construction site, so take the lead of your new colleagues on this one.

Languages other than English: It may be considered rude to speak other languages in front of people who may not understand (yes, this includes private phone calls, strange as that may seem).

Slang: Rest assured, you will hear a lot of slang in an Australian workplace! Best to familiarise yourself with it early. Check out our handy guide to Australian slang.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Australians respond very well to a willingness to learn

Can-do attitude

Australians are generally optimistic when faced with challenges and value a ‘can-do’ attitude. If you ask someone to do something, you’ll often hear “no worries’ in reply, and you’ll be expected to say the same.

When faced with problems, we value creative thinking and initiative rather than sticking too closely to ‘what’s always been done’.

Be direct

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In Australian workplaces it’s expected that there’ll be things you won’t know how to do. By all means, have a go at solving problems yourself, but if that doesn’t work it’s better to ask for help and speak up early.

If you have language difficulties, always ask for clarification if you need it. Australians respond very well to a willingness to learn.

Humour

Some foreigners are more than a little taken aback by Australians’ direct sense of humour! It’s normal to laugh at your own mistakes and humour is often used in order to diffuse tension.

Equality

Australians strive to treat everyone equally. It’s very much frowned upon to pay special attention to your boss while ignoring colleagues. And while it is expected that you’ll want to shine in your own right, Australian culture revolves around supporting co-workers (and enjoying their support in return) rather than competing directly with one another.

Social culture

Introverts beware, Australian workplaces are social! Whether it’s pausing during the workday to sing happy birthday and share cake with a colleague or a Friday afternoon barbeque to celebrate a team achievement, any excuse to have a bit of fun is considered a good one.

You don’t have to be the life of the party, but a little bit of participation will hold you in good stead with your colleagues. And getting to know your colleagues on a personal level can make work much more enjoyable.

Getting experience in an Australian workplace on your resume is a shorthand to future recruiters that you can work hard, have great social skills and are not afraid to think creatively.

And don’t forget, nib is here to help you make your transition from student to worker that little bit easier. Get in touch now and let us help you change your student health insurance into international workers health insurance – easier than you can say, “No worries!”

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