What’s expected of you at work, and how people relate to each other in the workplace is slightly different in every country.
To fit successfully into a job here you’ll you need to be aware of those differences and prepared to adjust to the New Zealand way of working.
One thing your employer and work colleagues will be looking for is the positive, ‘can do’ attitude that’s made Kiwis well-liked employees wherever they travel.
New Zealanders are known for simply getting on with the job and finding solutions. It’s a product of our relatively recent pioneering background when people had no choice but to get things done using whatever resources were at hand. That meant combining traditional ways of doing things with new ideas.
Today, we still expect people to think and work independently, and we know that collaborating and working with others is essential for getting things done.
One thing that has a big impact on our particular way of working is the size of our businesses and organisations.
A huge number of New Zealand businesses average under 14 employees. That’s about half the average size of businesses in the USA.
Even our big businesses are small by international standards.
And what we call SMEs (Small to Medium-sized Enterprises), businesses with less than 20 employees, account for 40% of economic output.
How New Zealand firms compare
|Country||Employees per firm|
Smaller scale, greater involvement
The smaller scale of our businesses affects working life in several ways.
You’re closer to the senior people who make the decisions. That can be a real advantage because it means there’s more chance you can be noticed and have an influence on things.
There are fewer organisational layers. So, whatever your particular role, you have a better overview of the organisation and what other people are doing. You’re also able to feel more involved and more part of the organisation, rather than being just one small cog in a giant machine.
Smaller businesses mean less specialisation. As a result, you’ll probably be challenged to do a wider range of things related to your role. That will give you opportunities to expand your skill set. But you will have to be flexible and prepared to apply 'Kiwi ingenuity' to solving new challenges.
“It wasn’t so much the salary or the relocation package. It was more that, although they’re a big company in this part of the world, it’s actually a smaller organisation than where I’ve been before. And that means I get much more involved in all areas of the projects I work on and have more chance to step up the career ladder.”
- George Pirie, originally from Scotland
If you’re just starting your career, New Zealand may well give you a jump start, providing hands-on experience and even management opportunities you may not see for years back home.
If you are a self-starter, that attribute is valued here. And if you bring middle or senior management experience, your ability to help train and show New Zealanders new techniques will be of great value.
Unstructured, independent working
New Zealanders have a strong independent streak. That affects the way we like to be managed, and the management style you’re likely to find at work.
You might be used to a more structured way of working in your country.
However, in the early stages while you get used to working more independently, it’s OK to ask for more detailed guidance. After all, you need to understand what you are expected to do. A Kiwi manager will appreciate it if you tell them if you’re not sure about something.
Status, rank and hierarchies are much less important in Kiwi workplaces than elsewhere. Managers are respected by the staff, but they are seen as one of the team
We nearly always address superiors, colleagues and clients by their first names. We treat everyone the same, and will judge you on your ability and what you achieve in your job, rather than your previous qualifications, experience or status.
Management style is usually informal, and so is the workplace. We dress quite casually, probably more so than you’re used to, and regularly mix socially with people from work. Many workplaces have a relaxed, almost family atmosphere.
In New Zealand workplaces it is expected that everyone will contribute ideas and feedback, although we are more likely to make a suggestion than tell someone directly how things should change.
The Guide for Newcomers has more information about settling in to the Kiwi workplace.
Because teams here tend to be smaller, getting on with other people at work is very important.
Having a quick chat before starting work and getting involved in conversations at breaks helps you become part of the team, creates good connections and makes working together much easier.
Networks and contacts in the wider work environment are also very important, so it is good to meet people at social and other events like training and presentations. You’ll be amazed how helpful it is to know people in other organisations.
Our Worktalk presentations will give you more idea of how we work here and what we expect of each other.
Balancing work, life and family
Working hard is important in New Zealand - but so is making good use of time outside work. Life is for living and employers generally respect that, which is why New Zealand workers enjoy about the best work/life balance in the world.
Employers here are also very sympathetic to the needs of employees who have families. For example, nearly 90% of people say their employer would let them take time off occasionally for special events involving family, according to a survey by the New Zealand Families Commission. Three quarters rated their work as having a lot or a fair amount of flexibility. Considering a request for flexible working hours from an employee who is caring for others is required by employment law here. Read more about this at the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.
‘Working from home’, while increasingly an option for many employees, is not as widely established here as it is in other countries - especially those where commutes can be long.