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The New Zealand Workplace: English Language and Culture Tips for Success

“What’s the hardest thing about working in New Zealand?” 

I’m often asked that question when I first meet clients preparing to come here for work or business. It’s not an easy question to answer because, of course, not all workplaces are the same here. The aspects of work or business that you find challenging will also vary depending on the knowledge, skills, experience and attitude that you arrive with. 

If you can communicate well in English and you’re willing to learn some Māori language, that’s a great start. However, you’ll be better placed to settle in well if you also have some knowledge and understanding of ‘typical’ New Zealand workplace culture. Let’s have a look at a few things to expect.   

4 common features of the New Zealand workplace

1.  The language we use is fairly informal

Employees generally call their boss or manager by their first name. They often speak quite informally to them and occasionally offer suggestions. Many New Zealand employees also feel comfortable telling their manager that they are unable to complete a task, providing that they have a good reason. They will, of course, use polite language in their explanation..

2.  Most employees are used to working with little or no supervision. 

Depending on the environment you’ve come from, you might notice less structure in your New Zealand workplace. New Zealand employees are used to being left alone to complete tasks and are generally trusted to ask for support if they need it.

3.  We value fairness

There is a general expectation that everyone should be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of their role in the company or organisation. Compared to many countries, status and rank in the New Zealand workplace are less important.

4.  We’re ‘indirectly direct’

Compared to some cultures, the language we use in the workplace can be subtle and indirect. Managers and supervisors will often use ‘soft’ language for instructions or requests. For example, ‘It would be great if you could complete the report today’ or ‘Can you just come and see me quickly when you get a chance?’ instead of ‘I need to talk to you today’. Don’t misinterpret these requests or instructions as being optional!

Beneath this indirect tone of language lies an expectation of transparency, honesty and clarity. Therefore, you should ensure that you support statements or suggestions with solid evidence or data. If you don’t, your colleagues or clients won’t be shy in asking for it.

7 keys to success

1.  Learn about your new environment

If you’ve got this far in the article, that’s a good sign! Regardless of your level of seniority, your willingness to learn and listen in your new workplace will not go unnoticed, and it will help you to form strong working relationships.

2.  Be willing to adapt

There will probably be some systems and processes that you may not understand initially. If you make an effort to adapt to your new environment, your colleagues will appreciate it and you will be less likely to become frustrated. After your settling-in period, there will be opportunities to make suggestions for improvement.

3.  Be punctual and ready to do the ‘mahi’

On first impressions, the New Zealand workplace might seem quite casual. However, despite our less formal language and attire, we expect everyone to be at work on time and to stay on task throughout the day. New Zealanders have a good reputation abroad for being professional and hard-working.

4.  Be flexible and supportive of your colleagues

Whilst some large companies do exist in New Zealand, the average number of employees in a New Zealand business is just under 14. The implications of this are that staff are often required to help out with a range of different tasks. If you are unwilling to be flexible and to offer help where and when it is needed, even if it is not in your specialist field, this aspect of New Zealand work culture might be challenging. However if you have a ‘can do’ attitude and a willingness to problem solve, you will earn respect from your manager and colleagues.

5.  Be humble and ask for help if you need it

Most managers will expect and encourage you to ask for help when you need it, especially while you are new to the role. When you do gain more confidence in your position, be sure to stay humble. Bragging about your achievements or ‘blowing your own trumpet’ will not be well received by your colleagues or clients.

6.  Take opportunities to socialise and network when they arise

If you’re working in a reasonably small team, it’s important that you all have a good working relationship. It is common, and useful for team building, to have a brief informal chat before work or during breaks. Common topics include the weather, sport, traffic, local TV or the latest news.

It can also be a good idea to attend social events with clients or others in your industry now and again. New Zealand is a small place, so forming connections can be very useful.

7.  Try to achieve work/life balance

In spite of being fairly hard-working, most New Zealanders value their time with family and friends, including managers. They will generally encourage you not to do too much overtime, or to always put work ahead of family commitments. Don’t be afraid to ask for time off occasionally to attend a special occasion.

Next step

If you found this advice useful and you would like to hear more about our 1-to-1 language coaching services for business and workplace success in New Zealand, why not book a free consultation here. I’d love to have a chat about how we can tailor a course specifically for your needs.

Author: Eli Briasco




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