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Australian Business Culture and Etiquette: What you Need to Know
International business often requires a knowledge of various countries’ business etiquette. No doubt some will be quite different to what you’ll be familiar with.
We consider ourselves very lucky here at Penguin Management. In our business, we meet many wonderful and smart business people from around the world.
Providing them with our accounting and business advisory services means we often discover how other countries’ workplace culture differs from our own!
Here in Australia, we’re famous for our laid back attitude. But there are still aspects to our business culture that will trip you up if you are not paying attention.
If you are planning on doing business here, this guide to some of our customs & etiquette will help you with the basics.
General etiquette in Australia
Australians are largely warm and friendly. We have a good sense of humour and will welcome everyone to our country. Be sure to remain open and courteous, and you will do well here.
You’ll find relationships are important, both in and out of the business environment. And personal introductions and connections are also much valued.
Word of mouth is a strong business referral source. A good reputation will see you introduced to many new opportunities very quickly.
What to wear to a business meeting
Of course, a suit and tie has long been the standard for meetings, particularly in the major cities and certain industries, such as finance.
For less formal meetings or catch ups, well-fitting business pants and business shirt is suitable. Such attire is also common in regional and country areas.
The rise of the entrepreneur, and a large start-up culture has relaxed a lot of expectations in recent times; some quick research into the accepted dress level for your industry will go a long way.
When in doubt, I would suggest you wear a suit and tie – you can always whip off the tie. Better to be over-dressed than under-dressed!
For the ladies, well fitting, smart and conservative pants, skirt or dress is always welcome.
Always be on time for your meeting. Yes, we are laid back, but being late won’t be well received.
A firm handshake with eye contact for male and female business persons is the acceptable business greeting.
At the first meeting, address the person with a Mr or Ms, although they will usually tell you to call them by their first name. Australians also like their personal space kept at arm’s length.
Business meetings will often have a personal preamble. During the beginning of the meeting make small talk and maintain eye contact.
The best place for a business meeting
This depends on the type of meeting. For more important meetings, the office or boardroom is the best place.
For less formal meet ups, the local coffee shop works great. Just make sure they have great coffee, Australians can be pretty picky about their coffee!
During the meeting
After the initial small talk, Australians will quickly get down to business. Communications are direct, good-humoured, and to the point.
Australians are well-organised and profit-oriented. Keep the meeting straightforward, with clear presentations.
Ensure mobile devices are turned off or on silent, so you can give your undivided attention to the meeting and the attendees.
Restaurant business etiquette
Restaurant meetings are well accepted in Australian business. If you organise the meeting, or are considered the ‘seller’, that is, you are wanting something from the client, then you should pay the bill.
If this is a strategic or important meeting, choose a highly respected restaurant. Find suitable restaurants via good reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, or Yelp.
Make a reservation for the restaurant. You don’t want to be turned away from a restaurant that is full. As before, turn off or silence mobile devices. Smoking is not permitted in any restaurant, inside or outside.
Australians hold their fork in their left hand and the knife in the right. During the meal, keep elbows off the table with hands held above it.
When you have finished your meal, place your knife and fork together across your dinner plate to signify to the waiter that you are finished eating and they can collect the plate.
Lastly, is the question of tipping. There is no obligation to tip, however, Australians will tip for excellent service. There is no set rate, it is based on how you valued their service.
Telephone & email is used for general business communication. Reiterate key points or summarise the minutes of a meeting via email. A simple thank you email after an initial meeting is often welcome.
Use text messages only when you know the person well, or have developed an otherwise strong relationship.
Business etiquette & employees
Australian managers are practical, consultative and non-hierarchical. Respect for management is based on interpersonal skills, with most managers delegating responsibilities to their employees, and vice versa.
There is a strong emphasis on workplace safety. Government laws and procedures closely monitor safety aspects from the office right through to the construction site.
Employees are protected by the Fairwork Ombudsman, and certain protocols must be followed by employers and employees for a happy and comfortable workplace.
This includes strict rules against bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment and interoffice behaviour. Poorly performing employees cannot be dismissed immediately. Employers must follow certain protocols to remedy the issue.
Generally, as long as you treat Australians as an equal, and are respectful, you will get it right.
Do you need further help with doing business in Australia? We are happy to help at Penguin Management.