Starting a new job is always daunting, so it helps to have
some idea what to expect—especially if you’re working abroad. You may be
confident in your ability to do the work, but what about fitting into a foreign
workplace? Learning the language is crucial, of course, but it’s only part of
the picture. Countries such as the UK, the USA, and Australia all speak English
. . . but they’re so different in other ways that they frequently baffle each
other. Obviously, no two workplaces—let alone two individual human beings—are
the same. Not all Americans are workaholics and not all Brits are shy about
telling you what they think. That said, if you’re thinking of working in one of
those three countries, here are some cultural differences to keep in mind . . .
If your British boss says “By the way, perhaps you could
make these changes?” then you’d better make them. If they call something “a bit
disappointing,” you should be very concerned. Understatement can be confusing
and frustrating to people from cultures that prefer to communicate more
directly. But from the British perspective, telling someone bluntly what you
want them to do feels arrogant and aggressive—they’d rather leave room for you
to pretend it was your idea all along.
In an Australian workplace, you probably won’t have much
trouble figuring out what your colleagues actually mean. Communication is
usually direct, even blunt . . . once you get to the point. Australians are
often uncomfortable with overt displays of authority, and have their own ways
of avoiding the possibility of being seen as too pushy. It’s common to spend a
good fifteen minutes at the start of a meeting talking about anything other
than work. You’ll also encounter a lot of slang and plenty of swearing.
You don’t have to do much reading between the lines in a USA
setting either—direct questions and literal statements are the norm, and
there’s no lingering on other topics before getting down to business. But if
something goes wrong, Americans are less likely to be blunt about it—they’ll
explain the problem, but they’ll try to “wrap” it in positives too. The focus
on optimistic, upbeat communication is also key to how Americans expect you to
talk about yourself.
Despite their other differences, both Britons and
Australians are uneasy about self-promotion. Not so in the USA, where making
sure your accomplishments are recognized is a necessary skill.
Each country’s attitude towards love in the workplace
varies, with the USA the most strait-laced, Australia the most easygoing, and
the UK somewhere in between. One-third of American businesses have policies
prohibiting romances between team members, and one in ten won’t even tolerate
relationships between workers from different departments. Such rules are rare
(even, arguably, illegal) in the UK and Australia, though some UK workplaces
will expect you to disclose relationships to a manager. In Australia, so long
as it doesn’t interfere with your work, you should be fine.
Norms in the UK and USA are fairly similar, at least as far
as differences in climate allow. Some industries, such as law and banking, are
more formal, with suits, tailored garments, and somber colors still the norm.
In more creative industries there’s an increasing trend towards more casual
wear. You should still probably dress conservatively at your interview and on
your first day to be on the safe side, but don’t be surprised to see t-shirts,
jeans, and sneakers when you get there.
You should err on the side of caution to begin with in
Australia too—but you’ll rarely be expected to wear a tie or a suit jacket. And
when small, creative workplaces get casual, they sometimes get very casual—you
may even see bare feet!
Given their reputation for being tightly wound, it may be
surprising that it’s the British who are most likely to go home on time and
least likely to complain if you’re late. They also have the longest holidays
and the most paid sick leave (although less of both than many neighboring
European countries.) But perhaps it’s partly down to their long commutes: the
average Briton spends 54 minutes getting to work each morning—it’s just 29
minutes for Australians and 23 for Americans. Meanwhile, Australia may be
famous for being “laid-back,” but lateness is frowned upon, as is rushing out
the door as soon as your shift is technically over.
Of the three, the USA expects the longest working hours, and
there’s no legal requirement for employers to provide any paid time off or sick
leave, although private sector workers do receive an average of 15 days off.
Whether you consider America’s “very hardworking” self-image
accurate will depend on where you come from—plenty of nations work longer
hours, including South Korea, Greece, and Russia! The payoff is the potential
for higher earnings—an American senior manager can earn almost twice what an
equivalent worker in the UK can expect.