The Australian Work Culture

The following is a guest post from Hannah DeMilta, an American expat living in the land Down Under.

hannah demiltaI moved to Australia almost nine months ago and started my new job with a digital marketing agency here in Sydney. I’ve enjoyed the experience of learning more about Australian culture through the workplace. There are some noticeable differences that I’ve seen between the work culture here and in the states. There are also differences in the workplace that I’ve learned to adapt to while being here.

>> Learn more about work visas for Australia and working holidays in Oz

Language in the Workplace

One of the first things I learned when coming to work in Australia was making some changes to the way I spelled and said things. While I will probably always have my accent, I needed to adjust my spelling when communicating on social media on behalf of clients. In Australia they often use “s” instead of “z” in words such as “recognise” or “realise.” It’s also pronounced “zed” instead of “zee,” which took getting used to. I try to communicate both written and verbally using Australian phrases, words and spelling, especially with my clients.

>> Check out the speak like an Aussie guide

Holiday and Life/Work Balance

“Australians love their time off.” This is what someone told me the first time I came to Australia and it’s so very true. The standard annual leave here is 4 weeks out of the year, not including your sick days/ personal days. Not only do Aussies enjoy more time off than most Americans, they also truly go on holiday and don’t work while they’re away. They are very respectful of your time off here. You wouldn’t call someone who is on annual leave with work related questions, or expect them to be answering emails. It’s a culture that values a work/life balance, something I think we miss out on in the states.




Afternoon Tea

There is a beautiful coffee and tea culture in Australia. I’ve blogged about it before, and while this coffee culture extends beyond the workplace but you certainly see it at your office as well. Several of my colleagues ask daily if anyone would like a tea in the office as they head to the kitchen to make one for themselves. I rarely drank tea at home and now it has become somewhat of a ritual (coffee too). My favourite time to have tea is with cake or a biscuit (aka cookie for the Americans) in the afternoon.

Office Conversation

The conversational chit chat and friendly greetings plays an important role in the office. It’s what some call “water-cooler talk” that is both expected and encouraged in Australia. I’ve made an extra effort in my communications online to be friendlier and often start by saying “hope you’re having a great week,” rather than dive straight into business.

Retirement and Benefits

Another difference between the states and Australia that end up affecting me has to do with something called the Australian Superannuation System or the Australian Super. Your employer must pay money into your super account each year (it’s nine percent of your base salary). Australians can claim this when they retire. You don’t receive health insurance from work here because all Australians are entitled to free basic coverage. Therefore your health insurance and work benefits when job searching becomes irrelevant.

>> Learn more about travel and expat insurance

Social Events

I embrace the work differences and enjoy the memories we’ve had here not only at our desks, but also just having fun. I enjoy Pub lunch Friday, another common tradition for many Australian workplaces. Nothing beats having a beer with your coworkers in the Sydney sunshine. Our last quarterly outing was lawn bowls (another first for me). When we found out our college was headed back to Scotland, we themed the lawn bowls Scotland and all dressed up as famous Scots, Scottish people or someone named Scot. I doubt you would have seen quite the same scene in the states.


We had our work Christmas party this year on a boat on the Sydney Harbour. Certainly something you could never do during the month of December in snowy Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll continue to enjoy these moments and new experiences with my colleagues while I’m abroad.

Have you worked in both the US and Australia? What differences have you noticed?


Hannah is originally from Cleveland but moved to Australia in 2010 where she works as a Social Media Specialist at Sydney digital agency, Switched on Media. Hannah is a social person online and offline, feel free to connect with her on Twitter or follow her story on her blog at

11 thoughts on “The Australian Work Culture

  • Lauren Fritsky

    You can imagine my delight when I saw you linked to my blog in this post. You can imagine my double delight when I saw that it was mentioned in conjunction with that time you dressed up like a sheep. BAHHHHH!

    Great post 😉

  • Hannah Law

    You forgot about how you always used to call the mUmmy bloggers “mommy” bloggers. 😉 We love the American cultural education you bring to the Switched on Media office and are so glad we have you on the team.

  • Lindy at AnyTrip

    I’m from Aus and I’m smiling at a lot of things you’re saying because they’re true. Although, I’m now living in the UK and my office is very similar to Australian workplaces (the copious amounts of tea, water cooler chat, same amount of holidays, free basic healthcare, the respect of no-calling during your holiday!) . One thing I noticed, is that Aussies don’t refer to their fellow employees as ‘co-workers’, we say ‘colleagues’ like we do in the UK. Just a technicality there to add to your ‘z’ and ‘s’ use! 🙂

  • Dorota

    Interesting post 🙂 I’m just not sure why your super is 3 and not 9%. You may want to speak to your employer 😉

  • Christine

    Awesome post with great insight–can definitely relate, although my biggest difference has been going from working in an agency (in the US) to in-house (in Melbourne). Totally different culture!

  • Rebecca

    Luckily (or not?!) I worked for a company with a “Z” in the company name, so I adapted to saying “Zed” very quickly. In fact when I had to call the US at one point and I was spelling our company name, I said “Zed” out of habit before I caught myself!

    And how do I miss “Wine O’Clock” on Fridays!!!!

    Great little recap!

  • Adam @ SitDownDisco

    Cool. I’ve never worked in another country to make those sort of comparisons so it’s great to read about them. I always struggled with 4 weeks of holiday so I’d hate to have only!

  • Ryan

    As an American living in the Central Coast, I can say this: Aussie’s- they’re not like us; they know how to live. The way they consider work as secondary and life as primary is just beautiful. I think when I return to the US I’ll be shocked. The thought of going back to a 60hour work week and a blackberry makes my stomach hurt.

    • Brooke Post author

      I think living abroad helps people see life differently, and even when you do go back to the US, you’ll probably be more inclined to make big changes in the way you live. How long are you here for, Ryan?

  • Sigrid Wilcox

    My husband and I are British Expats who moved to Arizona 10 years ago. All the opposites you have learned are reversed from ours. Everything that you have switched from we have switched too. My husband used to have 5-6 weeks annual vacation, and he now has 3 having started with 2 and gained an additional week after 5 years of service. This doesn’t increase again so unless all vacation time is spent visiting families in the UK we have worked out we will only go back every 18-24 months. As you said a day off is definitely not that and we are about to go on a cruise for a week and I have told my husband to inform the other staff he will be out of contact for the week! Working out the medical system and filing of taxes together with building a credit score from scratch in your mid-30s has all been interesting and there is still plenty more to learn.

    • Brooke Post author

      Hi Sigrid,

      What an interesting story… I cannot imagine the work culture shock you and your husband have experienced by moving to the States! Hopefully that Arizona weather makes up for it?

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