Management is a subject being constantly renewed within companies. Today’s managers are being asked not only to know how to communicate, to listen, to make sense, to organize workplaces to improve the employees’ well-being and productivity, but also how to set up positive and trusting relationships between all team members, and more widely between all employees.
Each culture gives us a different insight into working relations. Taking a look at management practices outside of France is certainly illuminating.
I went for a two-month internship in Sydney for my studies, and this is what my experience taught me about Australian management.
First of all, understanding the Australian economic and social framework is a requirement. The world’s thirteenth largest economy, Australia is a young, rich and welcoming country, very diversity oriented, notably because of its history. The cohabitation issue between colonists and native people has long been the bone of contention in social debates, from the beginning of Australian history. From an economic point of view, because of its belonging to the Commonwealth, Australia is currently facing mass immigration from countries like India, England, and South Africa. Asian countries like Indonesia, China, and Thailand are also important emigration countries because of their proximity
However it is important to note that within Australian migration policy there is a selective process to enter the country: the Australian authorities choose well educated and qualified people first. Australia is not a welcoming country for everybody.
Welcoming diversity has of course had a big impact on workplaces. In the company where I worked - a distributor of medical supplies- South African, Indian, Asian, German, Italian and French employees are spread across the whole company in all departments, creating a true patchwork of cultural cohabitation. More generally, just walking around in Sydney you will realise how diverse it is; very different faces, restaurants from every corner of the world (Japanese, Indian, French, Irish, Slovakian, Italian, Thai, Chinese…) everywhere, numerous cultural centers organise festivals alongside local authorities celebrating French, Indian, or Chinese culture.
Australian management practices are also oriented towards inclusion and welcoming differences. When I worked in the HR department in Sydney, I had to find multicultural calendars showing major celebrations around the world so that these could be celebrated at the office, encouraging better understanding of the cultures and countries represented in the company.
But this multicultural attitude goes far beyond welcoming different cultures. Many Australian companies set up policies of openness and global inclusion for many diversity issues, like LGBT+ rights, generation gap, disability, or gender equality issues, among others.
These inclusion and anti-discrimination policies allow companies that are willing, to gain accreditation from non-profit organisations. The accreditation allows companies to show their engagement in social issues. One example is Rainbow Ticks, for LGBT+ rights. To gain accreditation companies have to meet certain criteria in diverse fields (see table of criteria below) by completing different actions. If all of the criteria are met at the end of an 18 month period, the company is granted Rainbow Ticks certification, which it keeps for three years.
These engagements in social issues are often followed by a developed flexibility policy for a company to be able to meet the needs of its different actors; employees as well as clients. Many Australian companies have started having real possibilities for flexibility, which means giving the employees the opportunity to customize and build a part of their work environment. The aim for companies is to strengthen involvement, a feeling of belonging, and synergy between employees and company, enhancing productivity by investing in wellbeing at the office. It is important to notice that the unemployment rate is very low in Australia (5.5%), which means that recruiting and keeping people with experience is one of the most important issues for Australian companies.
Flexibility policies create possibilities for employees to have a certain amount of working hours per week, rather than start and end times each day; to be allowed to work partly at home; to compress a five-day working week into four to have an extra day off; to convert extra working hours into time off which is available at any time; to adjust workload so that it fits best with different stages of life. For example, people at the end of their careers might choose a lighter workload to prepare for the transition from working life to retirement. The idea is to mix these different possibilities to create an optimized working environment for employees, who can then give the best of themselves to meet the clients’ needs.
I would also add that new management practices in Australia are not only visible through the establishment of policies or formal actions. They are also visible through the will to create a pleasant, friendly, warm and casual workplace. During my internship there were many organised sharing opportunities. On these occasions which lasted as long as people wanted -generally between 10 and 25 minutes- everybody brought food of their choice whether typical of their culture of not. We discussed everything – though rarely work- together, telling jokes and hanging out. It was common to hear laughter in the office (open-plan workspaces for 15-20 people organised into departments along with their managers) to go and chat to colleagues for a few minutes to clear your head and laugh a bit.
Australian companies have opened themselves to new management practices, looking for openness, inclusion, and adaptation to employees’ needs, to enhance productivity at work but also to create strong professional bonds. It allows companies to gain momentum, and to keep a young and casual spirit, pleasant and conducive to better efficiency, but not only that. The point of these diversity and flexibility policies is also to keep hold of the good elements of companies, notably experienced but ageing employees, and new young talent, in a country where mobility in the job market is very high with people changing companies easily