Business Customs in Australia
Australia, located between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean, is the world's smallest continent and the sixth-largest country with the lowest population density in the world, only two people per square kilometer.
Australia's population consists on 20,434,176 people (est. July 2007) concentrated mainly in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Australia's government system is that of a federal parliamentary democracy, and includes religious tolerance and freedom of speech and association. Whilst its institutions and practices are uniquely Australian, they reflect British and North American models. Australia has a strong two-party system, the Australian Labour Party (social democracy) and the Liberal Party (liberal conservatism). Aspects of the Australian electoral system have made it difficult for other parties or independents to gain parliamentary representation. Nevertheless, the system of preferential voting used in Australian elections, combined with proportional representation for most Upper House elections, makes it easier for minor parties and independents to gain representation in Australia than in some other two-party systems of government, such as in the United States.
Australia has a Western-style capitalist economy with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Robust business and consumer confidence and high export prices for raw materials and agricultural products are fueling the economy (Klaus D Schmidt, 1980).
Making Business Appointments
Appointments are relatively easy to schedule at practically all organizational levels. Many executives are approachable, pleasant and willing to meet to discuss business. Most senior executives have personal assistants, who are answering the phone and managing the executive's diary. Don't insist on speaking with the executive, as personal assistants are expected and competent to schedule meetings. Try to schedule meetings at least one month in advance. Core business hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday. However, many senior staff, as well as some employees, work extended hours, and it is not unusual for an executive to schedule a meeting before or after the core hours. Many organisations have ‘flexible working hours' to accommodate employees' family and other life style comitments. If you are an employer, it's not enough to insist that your Australian employees arrive on time; you will have to give convincing evidence that their tardiness is harming the organization (David Hampshire, 2007).
Make sure you arrive for appointments on time, but understand that Australians sometimes have more of a casual attitude toward time. In some cases, if you are a few minutes late to a meeting, it will be overlooked. In other instances, however, your late arrival may cause you to be perceived as a careless and unreliable businessperson. On the other hand, if you find yourself waiting for your Australian counterparts to arrive, remain patient and accommodating. If you think you may be late for an appointment, best practice is to call your counterpart as soon as you can and say that you are running late. It will be accepted. In Australia, many business deals are made in a social environment, and it is not unusual to conduct a meeting over breakfast, lunch, dinner and, with the cafe culture on the rise, even in coffee shops. It is also common to socialise for an hour or so in the local pub after the workday, particularly on Fridays. For the business traveler, the best time to visit Australia is between March and November, since the summer season spans from December to February. January is also a month of school holidays, and many offices are operating on ‘skeleton staff'. Christmas and New Year fall in the middle of summer in Australia, and this is a High Holiday season for the whole month of January, so avoid scheduling visits then, as well as around Easter.
The types of clothing that people wear reflect the diversity in Australian society just as much as the variation in climate. Whilst there are no laws or rules on clothing in public, you are expected to wear certain clothing for business situations and most organisations have dress standards.
Standard business dress code for men is a black or navy suit with a white shirt and tie, and for women skirt or trouser suit with white blouse. During the summer, the jacket can be removed. Dress code depends on the industry, with banking and finance being the most conservative. A large number of organisations observe ‘casual Fridays', when employees can dress more casually, however, they still observe certain rules. Increasingly, organisations introduce ‘business casual' dress code during the week as well, and often specify what is acceptable and what not to wear. Jeans, singlets, open shoes and thongs are never acceptable. For a visiting business person the best option is to observe traditional business dress code until you get to know your counterparts more closely. Women are best not to wear too much jewelry and makeup, as it can be seen as extravagant and ‘showing off' (Peter North and Bea Toews, 1998). Conversation
Australians are very down-to-earth and matter-of-fact when it comes to talking business. They generally prefer direct eye contact and consider it as a sign of respect and indication that the person is listening. Australians are relatively open to dealing with strangers without previous connections and don't need long introductions. When meeting for business, they focus on a task and like to talk business from the beginning. Business negotiations are shorter and to the point. It is common to do business communication and problem solving over the phone, fax or email. Australians rely on written agreements when doing business as they like to prevent misunderstandings and potential problems. Communication style is direct, frank and straight-forward. People usually mean what they say and say what they mean. Most Australians do not hesitate to say a straight but polite ‘no'.
Australians tend to be enthusiastic conversationalists and debaters. Acceptable communication topics are: the weather, sports (particularly Australian Football AFL in Victoria, and National Rugby League NRL in New South Wales and Queensland). Anything related in a positive way to Australia is an okay topic. Religion, politics and sex are usually not discussed unless your Australian counterpart brings it up. Be careful not to criticize the Australian way, as they can be quite sensitive about it. Australians find arguments and opinionated conversation entertaining, so don't hesitate to express your views if they are sincere and informed. It is common for Australians to make provocative statements during conversation and it is expected that such provocation is responded to with humour. People new to Australia, particularly from non-English speaking backgrounds who have learned English at school, will probably be unfamiliar with some common Australian expressions or slang. Slang words originate from many different sources. Australians also use shortened versions of longer words.