A Comparison Between Australian And American Work Cultures, As Shared In This Online Thread
Australia and the United States may share a common language, but when it comes to their workplace culture customs, the gaps between the two countries are more significant than you'd think. Not necessarily negative – but differences that anybody hoping to do business or considering taking on a job in these unique patches of land should observe.
So Redditor moviessoccerbeer decided to find out what these contrasts are. They asked fellow members of the r/Australia subreddit: "Why didn't 'live to work' catch on in Australia like it did through the rest of the Anglosphere?" The user also added that the land down under seems to have adopted the Mediterranean "work to live" mentality and wondered why that is.
People from all over the world started sharing their opinions and giving insight into the work ethic standards in these countries. We wrapped up some of the most illuminating examples and put them all in one place for you to enjoy. So continue scrolling, upvote the answers you agree with, and share your thoughts with us in the comments!
I remember someone doing a study on the different pandemic responses between countries, and one of the reasons they gave for Australia's generally higher compliance was that in the USA they value Freedom above all, while here in Australia we value Fairness above (as a general cultural belief).
I've found the English professionals who migrate here are also the same, particularly from the bigger cities. Work, work, work. When do you get to enjoy actually living in Australia if you live to work? I’ve been called lazy for making this observation. I will always defend my right to have a work life-balance. I’m not buying into the idea that I have to prove myself to an organisation or company by working 12–14 hour days, it’s nonsense. And funnily enough, I'm doing just fine in terms of career opportunities.
We managed to get in touch with the creator of this post, moviessoccerbeer, who was kind enough to have a little chat with us. “I was researching places to move abroad, and Australia was always one that was recommended,” the user told Bored Panda.
This encouraged them to learn more about the land down under. “Specifically on YouTube, expats will say that the Australian people tend to be more laid back and have a ‘work to live’ mentality.” The user added this was quite eye-opening for them, so they had to go straight to the source to ask Australians themselves.
“I wasn’t expecting it to blow up the way it did, but it was a very pleasant surprise,” they added. Dozens of people shared their wisdom in the thread, and the creator of this post thought the comments were really insightful. Plus, their messages about life there were generally positive. “The only real negative comments were about certain areas of the country and the cost of housing, but no country is perfect!”
Americans got duped into believing that anybody can be rich with hard work. I don’t know what part of American culture or politics started this, but I’d wager it stems from the one cultural element that is uniquely American. That is, the 'I got mine' rabid individualism mentality. It’s led to Americans being one of the most stubborn groups of people whose self/worth has been forever tied to the notion of success.
Hard work is unevenly distributed across our society, but fundamentally we are (thankfully) lacking the shark tank, win at all costs, look after myself only, ethic that permeates American working life. I think that cutthroat work environment is born of a lack of social safety net, at will employment contracts and the absurdity of having your health insurance tied to your employer.
I pray we never become like them.
“I think that the Australian work culture is ideal and something to strive for, the Anglosphere (and other countries as others have mentioned to me in the post) model of working more than you need to for the sake of chasing money is toxic and needs to be done away with,” moviessoccerbeer said.
The user believes it’s important to bring these cultural differences to light. “People are destroying their minds and bodies, and missing valuable time with their families to voluntarily work extra so they can chase after a Hollywood fantasy,” they explained. “Life is too short, and these people end up regretting it. There is a better way to live!”
“If you don’t need the extra hours at work, don’t take them,” they suggested. “Use that time to rest, catch up with an old friend, spend time with loved ones, go to that new restaurant, travel to that place you always wanted to go to. Life is too short — the love and memories you’ll experience from those things will make you feel richer than money could.”
I'd thank Australian unions for our situation compared to the Americans.
We have a safety net in Australia if we become unemployed. We have medical care if we become ill. We don’t need to sell our souls. That being said, I’m originally from England and miss the labor laws of the UK for many reasons. Even casual workers get sick pack and holiday pay and that should be the case here too.
My guess is because quality of life here is good enough without having to have the best of everything.
Yeah I talk about how nice it would be to have X and Y all the time but unless I end up winning the lotto and can get it 'easy' that way then it's not worth working myself to death for it when what I have will do for now. I'd rather have free time than anything an additional 10 hours of work each week would be able to buy me anyway unless I was making $50+ per hour.
To learn more about what life in Australia is all about, we reached out to Gigi Foster, a professor with the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales, who emigrated from the US to Sydney several years ago. “Well, living through the Covid era has shown me that Australians are extreme rule-followers — far more so than Americans,” she told Bored Panda.
The professor revealed that for Australians, “the important thing is to comply with authority for the sake of that compliance — regardless of whether the thing you’re complying with makes any sense at all.” Americans, on the contrary, have a “far more of an entrepreneurial, independent spirit”.
Worked for an Australian company in the US when I was pregnant with my first kid. They gave me 12 weeks of maternity leave at 100% of my salary and up to a full year after that with no pay (and were really confused when I was so excited at "all the time" they gave me those 12 weeks).
I worked in the USA for a bit. I was amazed just how long everyone hung around at work for. Like, they weren't actually working the whole time, just a lot of chatting, eating, coffee and various other time-wasting activities. Not uncommon for people to spend over 10 hours a day in the office, then go out to dinner with colleagues afterwards.
I think workforces have more power. It's passé to admit this now, but unions make a difference. Even if you aren't in a unionised industry, the fact that they're around mean your alternatives are not that bad. If your opportunity costs of more leisure is low, guess what, you'll take more leisure and so will everyone else.
When Foster first moved to Sydney, it was initially hard for her to get used to a few customs, “like salad served without dressing and putting the toilet in a separate room to the bathroom”. She still misses a few things from America, such as the American unapologetic can-do attitude.
“Instead, over here in Australia, we have the well-known Tall Poppy Syndrome” — the expectation that all poppies should grow together, and if one grows too tall, it should be cut down to size. This syndrome occurs when people are criticized or disliked because of their success. Plus, there’s the cultural cringe: “Sort of a deep lack of belief that Australia could actually do anything really good and truly worthy. Now that is cultural baggage for you!”
Speaking for Americans I can say for a fact that we are a "live to work" society, we take pride in picking up all of the extra hours that we can. The chase for the extra money never ends. If you don't like picking up extra hours, you're seen as lazy. This impacts people's physical and mental health because they're pushing themselves past their limits.
We've been lucky, so far, in keeping working conditions against constant attacks from corporate interests. Similarly, things like the PBS, Medicare, paternity leave — those are all deeply-hated by the right. It helps that we’re smaller with preferential, compulsory voting in the lower house and a senate that blocks anything that doesn’t have consensus.
As an American living down under, please don't be like America. I know many people say it on the community forms and I hope that spirit stays. My life is 1000% better here and I do not take living here for granted.
When it comes to job satisfaction levels, Foster thinks that most college-educated workers are probably happier with their jobs in the US than in Australia. “I’d guess this in part because of the US higher education system in which students take lots of different courses, and so have a better opportunity to end up in something they actually are well suited for,” she noted.
“Whereas in Australia, you go to university to study a quite narrow degree program. If you find out that you don’t like it, it’s quite hard to change.” Foster explained there’s a higher chance of ending up in a career “that doesn’t actually suit you, and hence (or so would be my guess), being less happy in your job.”
In the US you have to sell your soul to make a living in a mostly hostile work environment. No one cares about you much less that you have a family.
I think there are lots of great answers to this question, but there are two that come to mind. In the US there is the concept of 1) keeping up with the Jonses and 2) the American Dream.
Starting with the American Dream, Americans are taught to believe that with enough hard work everyone and anyone can make it, be rich and live the good life. This is one of the greatest cons of all time, but I think it creates this concept of if you work hard enough eventually you'll get to a place where you can 'live' and so you keep going...which brings us to the keeping up with the Jonses. You get to the 'live' part when you are better than your neighbor. When you have the better car, better house, better clothes, are skinnier, prettier, fitter, more handsome than the person next to you then you can stop and enjoy the spoils of your hard work and 'live'. Well, that never happens because there is always someone who is bigger and better and richer...and so the mentality is to keep working so you can get there...and so it continues...
One other point is that working yourself to the ground and being time poor is a badge of honor in the US. There is a competition to see who is busiest as well.
There was a car ad a few years ago that perfectly exemplified, this but I can't find it...it basically was selling this idea that if you are time poor, work crazy hours and have this awesome car and this awesome house, then you've made it.
Just a very different way of thinking.
Modern Australia was established to be the 'Working Man's Paradise' on the back of a strong union movement. That ethos has remained somewhat and hasn't completely been destroyed by neo-liberalism yet.
Still, the “live to work” mentality didn’t catch on in Australia like in the US. “It’s definitely my sense though that a large fraction of Australians work not for the intrinsic joy they receive from their jobs but rather to do things they enjoy — surfing, barbecuing, hanging out with friends.”
Foster told Bored Panda she understands and appreciates this perspective. “In the end, happiness is what matters in this life, and lasting happiness ultimately flows more from love and relationships than from professional success.”
I like my job well enough (outside of annoying office stuff) and I like earning money. But if I didn’t need the money I wouldn’t be ‘working’ for it anywhere. I would love to spend the time with my family instead and I would likely volunteer in a field that interests me. I was discussing this with someone and they could not get their head around it. I think they are on the path of looking for promotions, looking for more money etc.
It's depressing. Thinking of a life of nine-to-five makes me feel physically ill. Life is so short, why do we waste it at work and accept it?
I follow the antiwork subreddit. I honestly feel disgusted at the typical North American work practices and what’s acceptable over there.
America pays extremely well in certain sectors and job titles.
But the majority of American jobs, including white collar jobs, pay FAR less than what us Australians make. When I moved there I was offered over 4 senior level jobs. Each paying 15k to 25k less than what I was earning in Australia for a non senior level role.
Cost of living was about the same as well.
“I was raised with a strong work ethic and still have it, and I also am lucky enough to love my job, but I have softened a bit since being in Australia and I like that change in myself,” she continued. “I feel it brings my behavior more in line with where, on reflection, my life priorities actually are.”
White collar workers, especially in the private sector, are statistically working very long hours in Australia. We do have a bit of an international reputation for it too as you say. Even little stuff like Europeans take a break for lunch and we stuff down half a sandwich over our keyboard.
But one key difference seems to be that in the US, that kind of 'rise and grind', climb the corporate ladder mentality seems to have permeated all types of work. You see people who work in Amazon warehouses and Maccas kitchens who talk like if they just work harder they'll be Bezos one day. I don't think we have sunk to that level quite yet (though we might).
Doesn't working in the US basically mean you can be fired for being sick or taking annual leave? I mean that's definitely the impression the rest of the world gets.
I got 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 more unpaid. Went back into my job and they've been great, which I understand is unheard of in the US.
Some personal observations about difference in work culture between the USA & Australia.
Go out for business lunch in the US and conversation jumps straight to business. Time is money.
In Oz, it's considered very bad manners to 'sell' over lunch. Instead, talk sport. Bonus points: have a funny story or joke to share.
In the US fearlessly sell your value, accomplishments & reputation.
In Oz, the tall poppy syndrome is alive and well so avoid 'bragging' to avoid being seen as a wanker.
Jack being as good as his master is a concept endemic to the Australian society - we laughed the idea of an aristocracy into non-existence.
Someone being better off than you doesn’t make them better than you.
It comes in large part from our convict origins where they had to be treated as humans for Australia to work as a society - it was realized almost immediately that convicts needed rights, like being able to sue ship captains for mistreatment or theft of belongings (which shocked the English) or we wouldn’t survive.
The negative of that view shows up in tall poppy treatment.
I’ve lived in the United States for almost five years now and the difference between how we Australians think of work and life and Americans has been really stark. Luckily I’m in California which is the most progressive about work life balance but honestly the way it’s all done here is just completely set up to make people fail in life.
Australia's climate is more akin to the Mediterranean than England or America. We literally lived off the land for over a century and its a pretty harsh environment. Surviving down here means taking it easy. My bet is it has something to do with that.
It seems that customer service workers in America get paid all, while their supervisor gets a load more. So they’re far more likely to step on each other to climb that ladder. We don’t really have such a massive pay difference here (until you get to corporate upper management, but that’s another planet altogether).
I have worked for an American company before. Their attitude to work is fascinating and, I think, driven by the fear that at any moment they could be turfed out and have no safety net. That said, Americans pay well (once past the low levels of the organisation) and many of them seem to be very cheery in the face of what I think are quite toxic workplaces.
There is a lot of quality leisure options in the main big cities and a culture of enjoying life and work hard but smart.
There are people that live to work but it is not so common. People here are also money obsessed, but the way to get extra income is mainly investing in real state, stocks or crypto, or take on a few extra casual jobs here and there temporarily, while not neglecting hobbies, family and friends.
The support net for the residents and citizens with least resources also helps with giving a sense of security that keeps the fear of going bankrupt by life events away.
Plus a very important factor: After mining, Australia lives off immigration: students to fuel the education business and rent apartments, who are also a critical source of workers for jobs that require none to low qualifications; skilled workers that fill in the gaps for highly specialised and knowledge demanding jobs; working holiday visa holders who travel across the country and make up a large proportion of our farming workforce. We need to treat these people right or they will go else where.
What you see in the US, where people's every waking moment is geared towards their work. Socializing? That's networking time where you can be lining up a better job. Overtime? That's just extra hours to get work done on the project.
It's the biggest difference I noticed between Australians and Americans when I worked in the US for a few years. Also one of the primary reasons I came back.
American business is so competitive. There are these enormous pots of gold everywhere and a culture around competing for them.
Then there’s the problem in America where unsustainable business models start all the time. Take uber for example, the business model will only work when self driving cars exist. They’ve never had a profitable year and most likely won’t until they have a fleet of job destroying self driving vehicles.
What’s the point of me bringing this up? When everything is so ruthlessly competitive, and you have these winner take all type scenarios, you breed insanity. Jeff Bezos’ “work life harmony”, for example.
Honestly, I think the best option for people is to live in Europe or Australia and invest in American businesses. Because that cutthroat, extremely competitive environment does generate great investment returns.
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