In Australia, business ethics refers not only to whether a company treats its customers fairly or if it is honest about its business practices. Australian business ethics also emphasize respect for individuality and privacy, as well as direct and honest communication and negotiation. Ethical business behavior revolves around being upfront, presenting yourself honestly and judging someone based on actions and skill, not on title or rank.
Australians value equality, which is an important social principle and is especially prevalent in the business world. Australians avoid what they call “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” which refers to standing out from the crowd. They avoid drawing attention to their academic or professional credentials or other accomplishments, and do not respond well to others bragging about their personal achievements or those of their companies’. Instead, they look to a person’s abilities and performance as indicators of competence.
Australia’s focus on egalitarianism and individuality strongly influences corporate structure and hierarchy. Employees may hold higher ranks, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have more authority or that employees at lower levels have less input. Collaboration at all levels is essential to ethical business behavior. Upper-level managers typically seek input and advice from their subordinates, and there is often no obvious distinction between upper- and lower-level employees. Employees at lower levels frequently have considerable decision-making power.
Equality is also crucial when it comes to a woman’s place in the business world. Women work in many of the same industries as men, and often hold positions of authority. Visitors to Australia should be prepared to do business with high-ranking women, which may be a culture shock if that is not the standard practice in their own countries. However, treating women professionals with respect is just as important to Australian business ethics as treating people as equals regardless of their social standing.
Whether it’s an informal meeting or an intense negotiation, Australian business people place company policy above all else. Professionals are expected to set their feelings aside, focusing instead on facts, evidence and company rules. Negotiations often move swiftly, and while Australians are receptive to new ideas, these new ideas must be based on empirical evidence. Australian business people don’t like an aggressive or overly persuasive sales approach, preferring direct communication about the other person’s intentions. Bargaining is also not well-received.
Privacy and Relationships
Australians draw a clear line between their personal and professional lives, and expect others to do the same. Discussing your personal life or asking extremely personal questions in a business setting is considered inappropriate. However, Australians do like to establish a personal relationship with colleagues and associates, and may want to make small talk before starting a meeting. This exchange is usually brief, though, and limited to neutral topics like the weather or sports, rather than potentially offensive or controversial topics such as religion or politics.