Emerging Trends/Desires in Australian Work Culture

Four emerging trends in Australian work culture are Australian companies giving employees the option of flexible working days and holidays, enhanced automation and AI application causing loss of traditional full-time and low-skilled jobs, women replacing men in the workforce at lower rates of pay, and technology enabling co-working spaces that improve efficiency and employee welfare.


Ernst & Young, an Australian, IT-enabled accounting company, introduced a Life Leave policy that allows staff 12 weeks off per year. Inventium, an innovation consulting firm, has an unlimited paid annual leave policy.Versa, Australia’s leading digital marketing agency, is giving its staff a four-day work week with a five-day pay rate. Versa’s employees work standard-length days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Kath Blackham, Versa CEO and founder, reports that the company’s revenue increased by 46% and its profits tripled with the policy’s introduction.Versa is now mentoring some 50 Australian companies on implementing a four-day week. In Australia, average weekly hours worked have gradually declined over the last three decades.


According to the Australian HR Institute, 52% of local businesses have installed automation extensively across multiple functions, which is 11% higher than the global average.A Deloitte study found that Australian businesses, compared to international businesses, are more open to using freelancers, gig workers, and crowd workers for IT (60%) or operational (26%) roles. And the percentage of robots to employees in Australia has tripled over the last 20 years.From the 1970s to 2018, the proportion of Australian workers involved in part-time work increased from 15% to 31%. Simultaneously, the number of low-skilled workers has decreased in the Australian labor market. More people are moving from the formal employment sector to contract, part-time, or independent employment as they reach the middle of their working lives. Potentially, this could mean theloss of traditional and low-skilled jobs, with those positions replaced through the use of freelancers and part-time workers.


  • Women dominated the top 10 growth occupations in Australia between 2006 and 2016. Over the last 10 years, a greater proportion of men have been affected by job loss than women. Australian women tend to be “more optimistic about their job prospects than men.”
  • Machinery operators are the least hopeful of their future job prospects. Most males with lower levels of education have jobs with a high risk of being replaced by technology.
  • The growing care industry is opening up new job avenues for women. However, average real hourly pay for Australian women has fallen by 2.6% since 2010.


Technology enables co-working spaces that allow for creative team collaboration, meetings, quiet work, reflection, rest, and hospitality. Co-working spaces empower employees as they match the environment with the work performed. Co-working spaces should lead to productivity gains as well as effective talent acquisition and management.In Australia, all working sectors (e.g., corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations) are looking into co-working spaces as a way to inspire employees. The number of Australian co-working spaces grew by 297% between 2013 and 2017. Internationally, 84% of people who co-work are more engaged and motivated; eighty-nine percent of co-working space users report being happier than those who do not. Co-working spaces are enabled by technology in the form of closed, enterprise social networking platforms (e.g., Yammer and Slack) to digitally facilitate conversations as well as web-based platforms and smartphone apps for operational functions.Co-working spaces are newways of working enabled by technology, and they are growing in Australia. Co-working spaces offer many benefits to both employees and employers; these new workingspaces present a different, better, and more enlightened way of working.


We began our investigation with inquiries into websites and databases (e.g., the Australian HR Institute, All Work,, and The University of Sydney’s School of Business) into data on work in Australia. Through these avenues, we were able to identify the majority of the information. Though the source material does not directly identify trends, we inferred them using the collected data.

Current State of Australian Work Culture

As a general trend, Australian full-time employees work at least 38 hours a week. Australia’s National Employment Standard sets maximum weekly hours of work at 38 hours per week. On average, Australian workers dress more casually than their counterparts in other countries.

Working Hours

  • As a general trend, Australian full-time employees work at least 38 hours a week. Australia’s National Employment Standard sets maximum weekly hours of work at 38 hours per week.
  • However, according to the University of Sydney Business School’s Australia at Work study, only 34% of all employees surveyed reported working ‘standard hours’ of between 35 and 40 hours per week. 37% usually work more than 40 hours a week, 19% work between 41 and 49 hours a week, and 18% work 50 hours or more per week.
  • The same study found that 25% of employees in Australia would prefer to work fewer hours, 8% would prefer to work more hours, while the majority (68%) are happy with the hours they work.

Dress Code

  • On average, Australian workers dress more casually than their counterparts in other countries.
  • However, some standard norms of corporate attire apply. For men, this usually means long pants/trousers and button-front shirts.
  • Women may have more freedom in their clothing choices in the workplace but as a general rule should avoid very short skirts, low-cut tops, and anything too sheer or extremely figure-hugging.
  • Many workplaces have a ‘casual Friday’ where you are encouraged to wear smart casual clothing like jeans.

Conversations at work

  • Australians often start meetings with social chit chat to break the ice. Joining in and sharing a little about their personal life with their workmates (if they feel comfortable doing so) helps build great working relationships and get to know their colleagues better.
  • Australians avoid bringing up religion or politics at work to avoid offending anyone or starting an argument.
  • Australians have a great sense of humor and love humor in general. Conversations at work are characterized by a lot of jokes.


  • Individuals can expect to be treated fairly and consult about issues that affect them.
  • According to the Australia at Work study, 78% of employees either agreed or strongly agreed that employees were treated fairly at their workplace.
  • 73% of employees either agreed or strongly agreed that managers consult employees about issues affecting the staffs.

How Australians Get to Work

  • According to one study, two-third of people use a private car to drive to work. Moreover, only 10% of Australians use public transport to get to their office.
  • Except Melbourne and Canberra, Australians like to drive even when there is a public transport alternative and cities are designed to suit cars, not bikes, particularly Sydney.

How do Australians Get an Early Start

  • Austrians usually get to work earlier and start around 8:30 in the morning. However, this doesn’t mean that they also get to leave earlier in the day. On the whole, Australians tend to work longer hours than people in other cultures. But, this also allows for some flexibility.
  • For example, in some workplaces, there are no scheduled lunch breaks. Instead, people can go out for lunch when it best suits them.

Australians Value Punctuality

  • Australians value punctuality because there’s so much work to do in a single day.
  • Arriving late, even by as little as five minutes creates a bad reputation among co-workers.
  • People usually arrive at work at least a few minutes early.

There’s Less Hierarchy in the Workplace

  • Compared to other countries, Australians don’t place much value on office hierarchy. In most offices, employees enjoy the same treatment. There’s a strong emphasis on the team instead of any high-ranking individual.
  • This contributes to the relaxed atmosphere expats working here seem to like so much. It also opens the door to a less competitive workplace culture in Australia.

Workplace Coffee

  • People in Australia take lots of short coffee breaks. The flexible working hours allow people to go out and get coffee whenever they want. As a matter of fact, coffee has become an essential part of the workplace culture in Australia.
  • Australians spend more than $800 million on takeaway and dine-in coffee each year. That comes to around 5kg of coffee consumed per person annually.

Australian Work Culture – History

The history of the Australian work culture revolves around five major defining historical accounts of the country which include the early Australian working conditions, the first unions and labor organization, the eight-hour day campaign, launching the livable minimum wage, and the Work choices and the Howard years.

Early Australian working conditions

  • In 1788, the first convicts arrived in Australia with minimal protection surrounding their working conditions. Basically, this meant they worked from sunrise to sunset with a part day on Saturday. Although Sunday was a free day, the convicts had to attend church.
  • Providing labor for the colony was part of the punishment for the convicts which the free settlers considered a free labor source.
  • Consequently, this led to the first strike in Australia in 1971 when convicts demanded for daily rather than weekly food rations.
  • The British Masters and Servants Act and the equivalent 1882 New South Wales Legislation highly favored the employers’ interests. These are the legislations that outlined the relationship between employers and employees whereby employees could be prosecuted for violations such as drunkenness, absence without leave and inattention to duty.
  • Penalties were enforced by the courts which included imprisonment or deduction of wages but there was bias since the magistrates and the employers belonged to the same social class.

First unions and labor organization

  • The first Australian unions were formed between 1830 and 1833 by associations of skilled workers such as shipwrights, printing compositors and cabinet-makers.
  • These early trade unions were met by fierce resistance from employers and the government. It is reported that in 1840, the government used convict compositors to help break a strike by the Society of Compositors.
  • New businesses and shops began to sprout as the colony also grew in early 19th century and following the advent of street lighting in 1841, shop employees had to work up to 14 hours a day which was reduced to 12 hours in 1844 by the Early Closing Movement.
  • After the transportation of convicts was diverted to Tasmania from South Wales in 1840, the Anti-Transportation League was formed, which stopped transportation to the east coast until 1852.
  • The shortage of workers caused many men to move to the gold fields and the unions found themselves at a great position to campaign for better working conditions.

Eight-hour day Campaign

  • On February 4, 1853, the Operative Masons’ Society was resurrected, which became a driving force for the eight-hour movement in Australia, initially proposed by Robert Owen in 1817.
  • The sentiments of the eight-hour movement were captured by the slogan “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
  • The union demanded for a shorter working day due to the harsh climate in Australia as well as the need for social and moral development, which would make the workers better citizens and fathers if they had recreation time.
  • On March 1856, a meeting was convened to negotiate the working conditions but the negotiations broke down and workers abandoned their tools and stopped working.
  • In the moths to come, negotiations with employers and the government resumed until a consensus was reached, which stated that workers would be granted an eight-hour day with the same wage as their previous 10 hour shifts.

Launching the livable minimum wage

  • The Conciliation and Arbitration Act was soon followed by a case that resulted in the establishment of a minimum wage for workers. Justice HB Higgins established that an unskilled laborer would need 7 shillings a day to be able to live properly.
  • Initially, the assumption was that the amicable way to resolve matters between workers and their employers was by collective bargaining.
  • However, over the years conciliation and arbitration became more popular and collective bargaining became less popular.

WorkChoices and the Howard Years

  • Professor Hancock, a member of the Australian conciliation and Arbitration Commission, argues that the Howard legislation of 1996 provided the ability of firms and their workforces and unions to determine things by bargaining.
  • The Howard government tried to create a system of individual agreements outside the awards, the tribunal and the negotiated wages through collective bargaining but failed due to the lack of support from the Senate.
  • As a result of WorkChoices, the Howard government secured a majority in both houses and the legislation successfully allowed for one-on-one agreements between the employer and the employees.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.


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