#95 Management, Austrian-Style
Over the past few years I have often been asked what the main differences in the workplace culture between my native Austria and the United States are. I still don’t have the perfect reply, but here are some observations. First and foremost, Austrians have a dislike for authority, particularly in the workplace. Austrians are well educated, they take pride in their work, and they think highly of their own skills. Therefore, they don’t like to be micro-managed – in Austria’s workplace, everybody is supposed to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it, and everyone wants to exercise that right. Viewed through a positive lens, this means that in most cases, Austrians don’t need anybody to breathe down their necks and can largely be left alone with a set of broad objectives in mind. When a supervisor becomes too directive, then employees will get frustrated. Unfortunately, and this brings me to my second point, disagreement with one’s superior is often not expressed openly in Austria. If managers don’t pick up on their employees’ dissatisfaction, the workplace could easily turn into a place that breeds a toxic culture of complaining and gossiping. And once that has happened, it’s hard to turn back the clock in any culture. The issue of not voicing one’s own feelings points to another important trait – Austrians’ need for consensus and (often false) harmony. In Austria, people don’t like to be direct. We often avoid speaking our honest opinion for the fear of being impolite (or maybe the fear of making a fool of ourselves). This is even reflected in Austrian’s use of German (or English…) as we tend to use a lot of passive voice, conjunctives, and the like. On the upside, this means that sticky situations that carry the potential for conflict are often resolved around conference tables rather than taken to the street. As a result (among others), Austria has one of the lowest numbers of labor strikes in the world – measured in minutes only. My next observation has to do with change. Change comes in many forms – for instance in the form of the introduction of a new management process, the adoption of a new software package, the hiring of a new (god forbid, foreign) manager from outside, or the simple disruption of daily routines, to name but a few. The negative attitude against such developments is easily explained through Austrians’ risk averseness. In Austria, children are brought up on children’s stories and proverbs that are sown with the same patterns all over: obedience and conformity pays, while rebellion and individualism are punishable. This certainly plays into the hands of those seeking group think and stability, but it doesn’t work well for those who want to reward individual initiative. Individual initiative is often suspicious to Austrians – not necessarily because we wouldn’t enjoy the rewards, but more importantly, because we don’t like to stand out and we don’t want to bear individual responsibility when things go wrong. When problems arise, mistakes are made, or failure occurs, responsibility is often and foremost believed to be “systemic” rather than individual. And finally, Austria is a land of traditional values. It is still a society that is dominated by masculine orientations in which men are engineers and women nurses and, unfortunately, where there is no gender equality in the workplace. It’s hard to find women in top positions in Austria, and women with equal qualifications earn about one third less of what men would earn in the same positions. Like in most countries, there is a divide between urban and rural areas, but by and large, men rule. The upside is that while Austrians like to keep work separate from their private lives, they are very performance- and goal-oriented.
I’m certain I have missed a ton of helpful observations, and I’ll keep working on the topic. In a future blogpost, I will also address how foreign managers can adapt their practices in order to succeed in Austria’s cultural environment.
March 16, 2013 @ 6:14 pm
Very interesting example how different cultures influence nowadays our daily business. What I experienced in my life most of the crucial decisions depends on the individual behavior. Try always to manage in an open mind of innovation and shown a willingness to learn. Yes, I am with the statement in the article Austrians very resistant about change processes ( why should we chance, it works quite well the past 20 years……). Therefore it is essential to sensitizing employees how important is a stable change and learning process to create a good position for future competition and growth. It is more difficult to bring people to the willingness to change than to think what the required new software program is or which process should be improved. But I think this behavior generated on our small country where we never learned to think big – we live in small downs or communities and we do not look what have happened outside. But on the other side people prepared to help each other and they act very familiar.
I do not agree with the point in Austria, people don’t like to be direct. In my personnel environment I see more and more direct communication. First I am very familiar with direct communication and prefer this style because it opens fast new possibilities and make conversations easier for all participants. And second direct creates the necessary trust which is very important in relationships and certainly for friendships. Of course Austrians use of foreign languages often brings up curios situations – but if you did it in a friendly manner everybody will forgive you!
The traditional values of Austria in my opinion should be better established for enter new markets. I feel every time very comfortable when explain my foreign business partners where I come from and feel goodwill. The main point is Austrians are not the marketing experts as the US guys are – here is a huge lack and potential to emerge. But from day to day we learn and if many Austrian companies shown they developed well marketing strategies and entered many different markets to offer our well known high quality products.
March 16, 2013 @ 8:40 pm
The blog-post nicely describes some of the typically Austrian dimensions to management by highlighting some of the cultural aspects one has to consider when dealing with Austrians. Being familiar with numerous others cultures, in particular in North America and Southeast Asia, my experience and understanding is that one has to be aware that the described Austrian aspects are fairly unique and are therefore not necessarily comparable with other cultures (such as the German) even in the European context for numerous reasons:
First, Austrians show an interesting ambiguity between tradition and innovation. This means that although certain values are considered to be hugely important, Austrians are – especially in the well-educated segment of the population – very interested in innovation. Numerous high-tech companies which are successful world-market leaders reflect this ambiguity as well as the fact that often these companies are located in the provincial areas of Austria and not necessarily in the cities such as Vienna or Salzburg. Just remember that the headquarter of Red Bull is in a rather small city in the province of Salzburg or that niche-market leaders such as KLH or IBS are located near Murau in Styria.
Second, Austrians value quality. Throughout Austria you will often hear sayings like “we want quality and that has its value”. This indirectly implies that often cheaper competition from abroad is not always perceived positive. This may imply the common belief that often local stuff is better than imports but it also shows the Austrian approach to make things better at home. Of course this is not something that applies to everything but the above-mentioned niche-market leaders are a result of this approach. Pretty often aspects such as environmental friendliness, sustainability and the efficient use of natural resources play a crucial role in this context.
Third, Austrians do show a certain resistance to change. Although this statement is partly true since Austrians typically approach attempts to change with statements such as “why change, it has worked well like that”, they can be convinced to change their habits with good arguments. Probably Austrians need more powerful arguments to accept change than other cultures. In addition to this, unlike in the past, Austrians tend to think in much smaller scale dimensions than let’s say Americans. Not surprisingly, you will often be exposed to sentiments like “yeah but Austria is not affected” or “this will not happen in Austria” because the Austrian typically first thinks in the context of the borders of his small home country in the heart of Europe and then later on maybe in the European or international context. This approach often leads to a certain degree of ignorance of things happening outside the Austrian borders.
Fourth, I do not necessarily agree with the statement that Austrians do not like direct communication. On the contrary, Austrians tend to be – also in my European experience – much more direct than others such as French or Scandinavians. It may not be that Austrians state their opinions right away but if they state them, they are direct, exact and to the point which might sometimes be insulting. However, the typical Austrian is known for its charm also in the international context which is normally positively perceived by others but may sometimes be tricky to be fully understood.
Fifth, the mentioned Austrian charm combined with the Austrian ability to adapt to different environments result in successful market entries and business stories in particular in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as well as niche-market players at international level. However, often such successes are not visible at first sight because Austrians often tend to be too modest and make extensive use of understatements.
Against this background, I want to conclude that Austrians – if they are convinced of something – can be very persistent, so watch out, because the “I’ll be back” slogan really applies to them very well and Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of Austria’s most famous sons and he also proved to be very successful in business with persistence and charm…
March 17, 2013 @ 8:09 am
Hofstede´s dimensions support your interpretation of Austrian´s behavior, they are risk-averse, don´t like authorities, are educated to be polite and to avoid confrontation through open-minded discussions, whereas I think it depends on the specific situation. Austrians don´t like authorities, but in my opinion they are aware of it and it is not appreciated to be open minded “between authority stages”. I am also convinced that Austrians tend to be risk averse and don´t like change. But also in this context I believe there may be a difference between older and younger generations. Younger people often have more international education, don´t want to work for the same company and in never changing structures their whole life as older ones like to do. Globalization enhances the willingness for change and development also for Austrians.
I completely agree with you and Hofstede that Austria is dominated by masculine orientations.
Anyway you mentioned that you will address how foreign managers could adapt their practices in Austria. I did this vice versa, what should Austrian managers take into consideration managing people in the US?
Additionally to country specific scores Hofstede provides on his homepage an interesting article about an approach called R-STAR steps in the cycle of managing people. This model helps to discuss the impacts of Hofstede´s study on human resource management or how to motivate people in different countries (find more under http://www.itim.org/managing_people_across_cultures.pdf)
Due to this model 5 aspects should be taken under consideration:
R – Recruting: What defines a good candidate?
Basically we have to differentiate between more or less individualistic societies. US people are supposed to be highly individualistic; Austrians could be seen in the midrange. Americans identity is based in the individual, the management is a management of individuals, the relationship employer – employee contract is based on mutual advantage. People are outspoken and have strong opinions. Hiring Americans would mean to be aware of these differences otherwise the sales manager could come to wrong conclusions in the assessment process.
S – Setting targets:
Low Power Distance cultures like the US and Austria (with a score of 40 in comparison to Austria with 11) negotiate targets, the gap of salaries between the top and the bottom management should not be too high. Based on Hofstede´s analysis Americans accept more guidelines and hierarchy oriented structures. Austrians are setting their targets on a more democratic way.
Also Masculinity should be taken into consideration in this context. People in Masculinity oriented cultures live in order to work and are used to be in competition among colleagues and performance. Targets are supposed to be operationalized by a motivated staff. It is surprising that Austrians are above Americans in the range of Masculinity. But I think this aspect is important for Austrian managers in the US also concerning women in management positions. Women seem to be more accepted in different roles in the US than in Austria.
T – Training
Societies with higher Power Distance prefer instructors who tell them how to do things. Lower Power Distance countries such as Austria and the US prefer more interactive lessons with debates and case studies. Based on my experience doing my MBA at the California Lutheran University I could hardly believe that Austria has a lower Power Index than the US -
Cultures with low Power Distance and high Individualism tend to use more direct feedback. Austria´s cores are an interesting mixture. Austria demonstrates a lower score in Power Distance than the US but also a lower score in Individualism. I guess, direct feedback is appreciated also in Austria, but I think Austrians tend to paraphrase and to find very polite wordings. An Austrian manager could be straighter forward in the US than in Austria.
Cultures with high Individualism such as Americans are high cash-oriented and work with individual performance-related bonuses. More Feminine cultures such as the Norwegians pay more attention on facts like greater responsibility, larger span of control and wider territories.
Comparing Austria and America is interesting, because Americans have a higher score in Individualism but Austrians a higher score in Masculinity, which means that they are also oriented on money and status but there seem to be a gap between men and women. I guess as mentioned above Americans don’t differentiate concerning men and women in the same way, but both cultures seems to fit concerning performance-orientation and rewards.
I am sure there are a lot of other aspects to deal with doing international or global business. In my opinion intercultural skills and knowledge will become more and more important.
March 29, 2013 @ 6:34 am
I personally wish that everybody in this great world that we live in, would all thrive being individuals. There are so many closet entrepreneurs and innovators that will never have their time to shine. This is not because of lack of talent, but because of lack of confidence. Many people are too sheltered and above all too scared to let their supreme individualism reign. Obviously this differs from person to person, but in my experience a lot of Austrians (obviously Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ambitious self would differ) do not state their opinions publicly. Maybe not politically, but this is equally as bad in the USA. If everybody just said what they were thinking, this world would abundantly have less issues, but we all know that this is never going to happen. For whatever reason people think the truth hurts too much or will get them in trouble. As for myself I refuse to be a completely acceptable sheep in society and that is one quality that helps me stand out. As opposed to being one in the crowd, I love being the individual on stage!
November 12, 2013 @ 1:28 pm
Based upon my personal experience (as a guy coming from Hamburg, Germany to Graz, Austria), I do agree with the statement that most Austrians dislike direct communication, especially when it comes to voicing disagreement. What I find interesting that some of the commentators before mentioned the Austrian charm. Coming from a region where a certain personal distance between business partners is valued and expressed by focusing communication on what is needed to broker the respective deal (even though I am aware that this extremely specific to Hamburg and its history as a trading hub), this can already be considered indirect communication. In Hamburg business relationships as well as the personal relationship between business partners are considered to be a development process. This could potentially also be related towards the idea of (false) harmony mentioned in the blog post. While Austrian’s might show a certain degree of resistance to change, this is something I can also say about Germany (both countries are similar when it comes to avoiding risks). Fortunately, you always have a couple of persons that realize that in change lies great opportunity and overcome that barrier, nationally and internationally.
Additionally a point I would like to raise is that pay of men and women must not necessarily be connected to the fact that Austrian has a male dominated society. Some studies show that a certain degree of inequality can be deducted by the fact that women and men choose their work place by using different evaluation methods and women are generally more scared to negotiate/act upon their salary demands. The difference of pay is a problem in almost all western countries and based upon the idea that family and career not compatible with each other. However, companies do react to that by offering more opportunities such as children care. Based upon personal reception, the topic of parental leave for fathers are a much bigger topic in Austria (atleast in media outlets) than Germany. However is might rather be applicable to urban areas.
November 17, 2013 @ 10:22 pm
It hurts a little bit to read those statements about Austrians behavior in relation to business – we allways see ourselves as open minded, modern and innovative individualists – but the truth is that the facts you stated are more or less reality.
First of all, I totally agree with the point that Austrians dislike authority. Hofstede states that managers in the US are seen as some kind of cultural hero. In contrast to that, the Austrians have a quite different opinion about people in management.
Secondly, in Austria it refers to a certain kind of pride to be able to plan your working day the way you want to. Also the opportunity to have a great responsibility and to be free to choose where and when you do your work is highly appreciated. You can also see it as a form of respect, not to be controlled in every step of your work. For Austrians it might feel a little bit like „doesn’t my boss believe in me and in my skills“ if they are under constant supervision.
Furthermore, I also go along with your statement of indirect communication. The culture of complaining and gossiping is quite common in Austria. And as you mentioned this refers to the need for consensus and harmony. The fear of being impolite and moreover the fear of being disliked is part of the Austrian working culture. But I think it also depends on the industry you are working in – in some business areas there is a much bigger need for the mentioned harmony than in others. Moreover, the company culture also influences the behaviour of the employees and their willingness to contribute their own opinion.
Moreover, maybe the fear of change refers to the high level of uncertainty avoidance as Hofstede states in his studies. As I see it, the fear of change does exist in Austria, but it maybe just takes a little bit longer to get attention and support for new ideas than in an american working environment. But that doesn’t mean that Austrians are against all new things. Holding on to traditional values in my point of view doesn’t mean to avoid innovation in every case. As I see it, Austrians are quite into innovation, just think about the large amount of hidden champignons we have in our country.
Finally, I would like to question whether we just might have to change our point of view. We always think we are easy to deal with and how we are working things out is the right and only way. Maybe we should bear in mind that the way we are doing business also appears strange to other cultures. And that there is the need to understand that what works for us might be totally confusing for other cultures.
November 17, 2013 @ 11:39 pm
The blog post about the Austrian management/working style and working behaviors really brought up some very good examples and singularities about the country.
Starting with the first statement, Austrians dislike for authority, I very much have to agree with the writer of the blog post but I would even expand his predication. I believe that also a not very well educated or experienced workforce is even more resistant to orders given by their boss, meaning also employees who just started working do not like getting told what to do. It is somehow deep inside everyone, regardless of qualifications or experience. I noticed that a number of times while working during the summer-breaks in different positions and companies. This leads to a toxic culture, a lot of complaining and in fact to a decrease of productivity.
This point shows clearly that Austria is a country with very low power distance – employees do not like to get told what to do, they want to communicate equally with their employer.
Referring again to power distance, I have to admit that I can´t understand why opinions and especially disagreements are not expressed openly in Austria. This acting creates an environment of false harmony. Communicating on par with the employer has such a high value in Austria, but when it comes to tricky topics there is a lot of talking behind the back which leads again to a non-productive working environment.
A positive effect of this style of communication mentioned in the blog is that strikes are very rare in Austria.
I believe that this is only a minor reason for it. A lot has to do with the economic situation. Austria is one of the richest countries in the world where more or less everyone can live a good life and companies provide a lot of perks and benefits for the employees. This all contributes to an environment where strikes are not a real option.
I found the writer´s observation about Austrian´s averseness to change very interesting. Change is part of the daily life, the private one but also while at work. I never thought about it having so much to do with how Austrian children are raised and what values they experienced. This education has also a lot to do with the Austrian´s need of wanting (often false) harmony at the workplace.
Relating to the writer´s opinion about individual responsibility I have to agree. I came to this point of view while looking at the Individualism ranking of countries from Hofstede where Austria is only ranked in the midfield. Additionally I looked at the number of self-employed people in Austria compared to other countries which shows a quite low number for Austria. (http://wko.at/statistik/eu/europa-selbstaendigenquote.pdf)
The last point deals with Austria being a land of traditional values. While the society is slowly changing towards a more equal one, it is still evident that there is a big gap between income of men and women. Additionally women are often not even hired for top-management positions. The masculinity-country-chart from Hofstede shows this clearly. It ranks Austria at Nr. 2, just trailing Japan which hast the strongest masculinity-femininity-discrepancy.
The only solution I came across, at least for the payment, would be to end this injustice by law and ensure that men and women get paid equally across all companies and positions.
November 18, 2013 @ 1:31 pm
As a foreigner student I found it really interesting to read how local people evaluate their own business behaviour in Austria. First of all I need to state that I hate generalization, but examining a country with 8 million inhabitants, it is needed.
I can agree with the point, that Austrians are not that direkt, but they have learned the tools, how to negotiate with different type of partners. The problem-solving habit, to sit around the conference tables and find a solution in a civilized way, seems to be successful in a long term.
I also noticed the low power distance attitude during my stay in the education. Interactive lessons, case studies and during these proccesses the teachers and the students are able to discuss topics like equals. ( of course the teacher is a moderator)
In my opinion Austria is usually playing in business for granted. They do not want to conquer the whole market immediately. First they focus on a smaller area, then think globally. ( Actually I was curious about the Austrians biggest glory, the RedBull’s history, and they expanded within the first five year to Hungary and Slovenia, and in 10 years to America)
I think women and men never will be equal in business life wherever we go, until the women have other obligations in family life. In developed countries the law can reduce the occured injustices.
November 18, 2013 @ 9:41 pm
Your observations about austrian management styles are very interesting. This is the first point I would like to discuss. An observation made by a person outside Austria should be done more for different companies. Because there are always two sides of a coin. Most of our (autrian) companies consider only one side and think either there is only this side or this one side is the only correct side. As already stated in the blogpost, Austrians are well educated and able to work without having a supervisor on one’s side all the time. This is a good thing because we are self-contained as well as a bad thing. From my personal experience, I can say that we tend to forget asking other people for feedback. Giving feedback is such an important step in every kind of work. Because feedback shows maybe the other side of the coin, it shows another person’s point of view. Austrian culture is an individualistic culture (expressed in Hofstede’s dimensions). People want to be individual; they want to set themselves apart from each others. This is very often a reason for not asking for feedback.
Austrian’s behavior in terms of uncertainty avoidance and power distance is quite similar to Germany. We like to have a clear system and a clear structure. Austrians are quite careful when trying new things. Everything needs to be proved before taking action. It would not be correct to say we are not curious. I think we are, but we tend to let someone else try first, because we are afraid to get caught in a trap.
This brings me to my last point which is change. Whatever it is, we are not happy with changes if nowhere else the same type of change was made before. If a new manager comes to a company for instance, people are very critical in most cases. This is a factor that can destroy a company. Austrians like routines and consistency.
In my opinion, we should be more open-minded and we should try to learn from other countries. Most companies would benefit by doing ongoing benchmarks within the own sector as well as with other comparable branches.
November 19, 2013 @ 1:55 pm
For me, as an Austrian, I found this post really interesting, funny and actually quite true! I can really underline the statements and example the author made.
About that Austrian do have a dislike for authority, it is so true. Austrians do definitely not like to have somebody above them with more authority. I think it is about the low power distance. Austrians actually think they know almost everything and there are always right. Maybe this is also something which has to do something with our education and how we have been raised.
I also agree with the second point that we do not like to express disagreement openly. Maybe a reason for that is, that we don’t like to get in fights or even a discussion with employers or employees. I think we like it, when everything seems to run smoothly and there aren’t any problems. Even if we do know that there are some things, which aren’t that perfect. So I guess it has something to do with our childhood, if we have grown up in a “perfect” family, we are not used to get in discussions or in a place without harmony. So we prefer to live in kind of a false harmony instead. But if you haven’t grown up in a “perfect” family and you are used to discussions and disharmony, I guess than you haven’t a big problem with spilling out your honest opinion (but I guess that isn’t that often the case).
I also agree that Austrians do not like changes that much. And I also guess it has something to do with the risk awareness. And risk awareness has something to do with the uncertainty avoidance. And to me, Austrians to not like to take a lot of risks. Doesn’t matter in which kind of way. We are not used to do things individually. And if someone does things individually it scares us at the first.
This has something to do, in my opinion, with our traditional values, which we were told in our childhood by our families. In my point of view we are going in the right direction and changing slowly to a more modern culture. But as you mentioned before there aren’t many women in a high position in companies and even if they are they do not earn as much as men do in the same position. So there we have still a big gap between women and men. Maybe a reason for that is that Austria is still a masculinity country. And even our government trys to overcome these income gap between men and women. I think it takes Austria and the habitants more than just a law to change this.
November 19, 2013 @ 2:52 pm
I have to agree with Alexander Huszar about the problem concerning the power distance in Austria. “I believe that also a not very well educated or experienced workforce is even more resistant to orders given by their boss, meaning also employees who just started working do not like getting told what to do” I once worked at a small painter company which had about 10 employees and some of and on workers. I think that this toxic situation comes up, as in my company as well, because Austrians less differ their status by physic statements but more by their social status. Let me explain that a little bit better by going back about 50 years. If a man was a famous local doctor in a middle sized city his wife also was named: “Frau Doktor” (In German). So the honor that was shown to the man also was shown to his wife and this was very important to do in that time.
So this heritage of thinking could have led us to our current situation in which nobody want to get supervised because it shows a less social status which is still pretty important in Austria. (As we usually use our academic degree in mails and informal situations as well)
“Relating to the writer´s opinion about individual responsibility I have to agree. I came to this point of view while looking at the Individualism ranking of countries from Hofstede where Austria is only ranked in the midfield. Additionally I looked at the number of self-employed people in Austria compared to other countries which shows a quite low number for Austria. (http://wko.at/statistik/eu/europa-selbstaendigenquote.pdf)”
This is probably to other side of the view! Maybe this awareness of our social status and our grudgingly integration into this system is the reason why we accept our position and think we are not good enough to reach higher points. So to bring this thought to an end, I don´t want to say that Austrians having a low self confidence. I want to mention that because of the importance of our status we are less risky concerning topics like career and self employment. We care what others think about us and because we could fail we are afraid of doing this.
This maybe sounds irritating to readers from other countries but I think this is one problem Austrians have to deal with. Especially compared to America or Australia.
November 21, 2013 @ 12:48 am
In my opinion there is one important phenomenon missing when describing Austrian behavior. Austrians like to complain. It is just part of communication, agreeing on something being bad combines the people. What is important to understand about this behavior is that Austrians are not more discontent than any other nation. (The complaints can even be very funny and entertaining.) More certainly this (bad) habit can be traced back to a subconscious inferiority complex of inhabitants of a small country that most of the times plays the second fiddle to Germany and are asked about the kangaroos in their country repeatedly. A lot of Austrians feel mistreated since they think that they know everything and can do everything (besides the politicians of course.) However, changing the situation would be very, very exhausting and they have just eaten a Schnitzel and feel tired. Complaining is just more comfortable. After this paragraph complaining about that Austrians complain a lot (guess where I am from) I will express my opinion why this habit of Austrians has an effect on the topics discussed in this blog.
First of all, it is only partly true that do not express their opinions openly. Their opinions e.g. about their boss are just not that extreme as they have pictured them beforehand talking to their colleges. Furthermore, I personally do not picture Austrians being above-average polite people. However, I agree with the statement that Austrians prefer to avoid giving direct statements. “We’ll see” is probably the most used sentence in Austria.
Secondly, complaining goes hand in hand with change. Since Austria is an uncertainty avoidance culture risks and innovations make feel people uncomfortable. However, when everybody is just complaining and nobody is doing anything against the change it is accepted step by step.
Last but not least, it is a fact that Austria is not only a country with traditional but also masculine values. Gender equality in workspace is an often discussed topic especially quotas to increase the number of women in high positions which is definitely a worth perusing goal. Although, such quotas would mean a sudden change I personally believe that it will not be accepted by the employees. This brings us back to the start- men and women would be complaining about a woman “that only got a job due to a quota”. This is not a situation you want to picture yourself and it is not good for women’s self-esteem either. In my opinion it would be better to look at the reasons why women cannot or chose not to have a career. An example that immediately comes to my mind is that it is really difficult in Austria to combine career and family and a lot of women chose family. Better and more opportunities for children’s care and more flexible working hours for example could enhance the situation for women.
November 23, 2013 @ 11:09 am
While reading this post about Austrias Management style I had an article in mind from the magazine “trend” I’ve read some years ago. Unfortunately I can not find it anymore but let me describe it in a few words: in the article some managers with migration background had been interviewed about austrians business & working behaviour and their experience with it. The statements were ident with the points mentioned in the post. I rememeber one statement in which a female manager from asia mentioned that she was shocked, how often austrians are moaning and complaining about almost everything (not just work, also about weather, traffic,…). In japan, where employees work at least 10 hours and holidays are not taken (because of anxiety loosing the job), you will never hear anyone moaning.
Referring to the statements above, I found some similarities between Austria and Japan I want to summarise: greetings are very formal – as mentioned before, the title (Dr., Mag. Dipl.Ing,…) is very important for austrians and has to be mentioned in greetings, mails, etc. In austria a handshake, in japan a bow – just an informal “Hello” is not accepted. Another point is risk-avoiding. Japan is well-known for copying. They don’t want to fail, so they wait until other countries have invented something and then they copy it. But in the last years there has been a little change and asia became more and more innovative (Samsung mobile phones, for example) in my point of view.
Another point is masculinity. As shown in Hofstedes masculinity-country-chart, Japan and Austria are on the top. For both it’s time to change quickly and to “copy” countries like Denmark or Sweden…
There’s an interesting homepage offering translations and also trainings for intercultural awareness. They provide facts about many countries regarding language, culture, customs and etiquette. I think this is a great overview. Here are the links if you are interested:
November 24, 2013 @ 3:20 pm
Frommy point of few I agree with the points mentioned on the top as well as with the comments before. I want to add my own few and expiriences in worklife in Austria.
First of all, Austrians are only seen as a good employee if they work hard, long and overtime. If all the routine work is done and they go out of office on time, it looks like that more work is needed because no overtime shows no stress and enough time to carry out another task. Nevertheless, feedback and to praise an employee attach only little value for managers. It has not always to be an financial bonus, often an priase on a personal level can lead in an increase of motivation of employees. To sum it up, all these conditions may lead in a high employment fluctuation.
Secondly, Austrians agree with their bosses because they are afraid of loosing their jobs and the economic situation is not as good as it should be. The rate of unemployment will increase in 2014 again like the forecast shows. Unemployment will be a main topic because of steady or increasing situation. As well as the difference between the salaries for man and women in Austria still exists and developes a gap between them.
The grading of salaries gets rated by for example position, education, age and work experiene, sector, regional location, size of the area of responsibility. Often there is more masculinity in higher positions in Austria given. The reasons are for example women prefere other types of positions or they need a part-time job because they got a baby before.
Last but not least, for me a small but important intercultural aspect refers for example to the difference in how to tread clients/customers. Austrians worklife is similar to the German onces. Like Hofestede said the German management theories concentrate on formal systems. My expirience refers to the speaking habits at phone calls. In contrast to the German managers, Austrian managers are more rude on the phone. German managers or for example directors of different departments (sales, accounting ect.) are more open minded, obliging and friendly. This shows the way like they say bye on the telephone: Germans talk more informal like „Tschüss“ and Austrians more formal with „Auf Wiederhören!“.
November 25, 2013 @ 7:03 pm
I guess that two different worlds collide, but show certain similarities. For example, pride. The Americans are very proud of themselve to be known worldwide for their country and the American culture but also the Austrians are very proud of home and culture. In addition, a high masculinity was ascertained in both countries. Both cultures are extroverts and have no problem times to say the opinion. This also does not always agree with the thoughts of others. In contrast to cultures that have a low masculinity.
March 30, 2014 @ 9:21 am
A significant difference between the US and Austria is the individualism index according to Hofstede. With a value of 100 points Americans rank among the top countries in that index whereas Austrians with 58 are more in the middle field. This, as already mentioned, underlines that Austrians are probably those seeking more group think and stability. Austrians don’t like to stand out, individualism isn’t that important.
Also, according to Hofstede, a significant difference is Uncertainty Avoidance. With a value of 37 Americans are much more willing to take risks than Austrians with a value of 60. Austrians are seeking stability and order. Flexibility, open-mindness to change is something hard to find in Austria, and as we know from the Americans, they are more flexible and are more quickly to leave a job, if something is not ok or a better opportunity arises. That also means that in Austria you need to keep the focus on the stability of your company when doing a big project and prove that you have proven solutions instead of innovative but possibly riskier solutions.
April 17, 2014 @ 9:06 pm
One sentence I love to mention in the context of international business is the following one from Mrs. Judith Hornok in 2011:
„Getting to know others better, to learn and to understand people better, is the safest and most precious investment on the 21st century.”
But before getting to know others better, it is essential to understand oneself. Only when you know yourself (and culture) you can see and identify the differences to others.
The Austrians are indeed resistant to change. “It has always been like that” or “we have always done it that way” – are common sayings that can be taken literally. This means also that it is, as far as I experienced until now, difficult to get people to move abroad for some time. Fortunately if you find expatriates they will be, at least for a big percentage, more open-minded as the average Austrians are.
I strongly agree with the mentioned point, that the Austrians do not express disagreement openly. Unfortunately (we) Austrians rather like to bellyache about something than to introduce a change, or at least problem-solving discussion. In my opinion this is one of the biggest problems of the Austrians.
In this context I especially like the books from Xenophobe – there is one called – Xenophobe’s guide to the Austrians, from Louis James. It includes all stereotypes Austrians are faced with. It can be definitely said that we, Austrians, are very bureaucratic. In my opinion also the long history of Austria (and Europe) in general influence the Austrians to be more “settled” or in other words more enrooted in one place.
One difference that I also see is the one of titles. In Austria, at least in public institutions titles still play a very big role. I have the feeling as if this is changing a bit, but still titles are important and are proudly presented by the Austrians in meetings or other occasions.
Of course, and this has to be mentioned, not everybody is the same and not all Austrians can be lumped together.
November 13, 2014 @ 2:01 pm
First of all, all statements which were mentioned in this blog are true. I want to start with the bottom statement, the “traditional values” Due to Hofstede’s parameter of masculinity, Austria has a high score of 79%. The fact that we are dominated by men, was already written by the author of the blog. Nevertheless I think that we are in the stage of development which means, our politics fight for equal salaries and I also think that more and more women try to establish themselves in this dominated men´s world. It is hard, but for example the military tries to recruit women for their program. I think this process is leading into a right way.
The comment that we don’t want to be responsible for something if a thing went wrong is totally true. In my eyes people want to have or raise empowerment from their managers and they will trust you and give you exactly this empowerment. If we do our duties well, we need it to be highly praised, more than once. On the contrary if something goes wrong, we used to say that the system or another person is responsible for this mistake. We are bad in accepting mistakes caused by ourselves – really bad.
I think the US nation is much better in accepting their mistakes and try to repeat their duties in another way. They try to learn something from their failure. Austrians simply say: “Bahhh, that wasn’t my fault, no, I did the right thing.” We are a very stubborn folk, unfortunately.
The individualism is very low in Austria and thus the complete converse to the States. Austri-ans are educated like “go with the system, and you will survive” while the Americans live their dreams. The education level of both countries is completely different. In Austria nobody be-lieves the quote: “from rags to riches” while the Americans live this principal. I have to admit that it changed maybe a little bit over the years, because nowadays, in days of competition it´s getting harder to be the best, but it still works. Austrians are too sealed and negative to believe in something like that. Of course not the whole citizens but I think most of them.
Finally I want to consider the fact that Austrians have a problem with authority. They don’t want to have a boss, they want to have a friend. This “friend-thing” doesn’t always work, which leads mostly leads to frustrations and misunderstandings. We are a very sensitive folk and we often take comments or supervisions too personal. And it is getting harder for men with a woman as their supervisor, due to our high score in masculinity. As I already mentioned I think we are in the course of time and that is a good sign.
All in all, we are a very complicated and often stubborn folk with an extremely sense of being confirmed all the time. Nevertheless we are a very open minded and warmly people and we try to be more individualistic.
December 1, 2014 @ 6:44 pm
First of all, I think not every issue discussed in the post can be said for each and every Austrian. Every human is different in behaviour and acting. But I guess, it is after all necessary to over-simplify in some way in order to discuss cultural differences.
According to Hofstede Austria is pretty high in uncertainty avoidance – I can totally agree with that. I think the “good old Sparbuch” is nowhere as popular as it is in Austria for example. From my point of view this results into the indirect behaviour from Austrians. People fear for their jobs if they are direct and say what they really mean. I can totally confirm, that talking behind one`s back is very common in Austria. From my point of view communication would be a lot easier, if people were more direct in daily life.
However, I think the point “dislike of authority” is not absolutely true for everybody. (but like already mentioned before, one as to over-simplify things to be able to discuss the topic) At least I know rather many people, who like to have authority, who like to be controlled. I even think that they need this control to feel secure, to know what to do.
I also think, like already mentioned here, that the unwillingness for changes in Austria is based on the values. Austria is a country with a long, traditional and proud history. As far as I am concerned, most Austrians do not really like to think of changes – they like it how it is. Also I think that changes are not necessarily necessary all the time. Some things work out great that way we are used to – so why changing it?
All in all I think we Austrians are a pretty traditional and value-oriented little country. But we really do try to look beyond one`s own nose. And, whatsoever, we are really good in what we`re doing and are also innovative and open-minded in our work.
April 1, 2015 @ 9:19 am
This post tells a lot about Austrian peculiarities and the author has a deep insight into the Austrian work environment. Being the founder of a company and in charge for many employees also, I observed that one has to constantly motivate people to take responsibility and discuss openly what they like and dislike. Many times a discussion starts with the sentence “the problem is…” and I observed that it is well analyzed why a project will not work and in general shouldn’t even start. On the other hand it is the task of a leader – CEO, department head or project leader – to make things done and make employees responsible for their work and its results. Over the years I learned that a company has to invest in its employees. Once people learn more about leadership and management by objectives, you can see the results within a short period of time. Also certain behavioral aspects change over time and it is hard to compare the same Austrian company in 1990 and 2015. Especially young employees are much more demanding and ask actively already during the hiring process to take over responsibility and to relate parts of their salary with their job performance. The same is true when it comes to raise doubts and dissatisfaction. It has to do with leadership and the example you give to your employees. As long as you don’t motivate people to raise their voice freely, this will result in dissatisfaction and rumors about everything related to the company. When you start already on an apprentice level and explain to the youngsters that their opinion is appreciated also other employees in the department learn that an open opinion is more than welcome. Summarizing, the author observes a lot of true behavioral aspects but it has to be stated that most of them change permanently and adapt to especially US-American standards and many of the topics depend on the leadership style and not only on national, cultural values.
November 17, 2015 @ 11:19 am
As I was reading your post for a course at my university where I am learning about intercultural aspects with special regard to Hofstede´s model, I found a few very interesting points within your blog. It is true that you said in Austria we don´t want to overtake a lot of responsibility in case of trouble, although – and that´s the interesting point – we are living in an individualistic culture. So the aim in our culture is to achieve outstanding success and get honoured by others, but we don’t want to be the “bad person” if something goes wrong. You may have seen the individualistic aspects along our people by just watching them – everyone wants to be alone and not speaking with others in public transport for example. Furthermore, Austrians don´t see being part of a group as a vehicle to success, in contrast, they want to become successful by their own and to get the full reward.
Another very interesting aspect you mentioned was the masculine orientation in Austria. You were absolutely right. It is very difficult in Austria to become successful in business as a woman. For sure, that there are other countries, where you don´t have any rights and get treated like trash, but the difference between male and female in Austria is even though significant. Not just in getting into higher positions, but also in terms of salary and reward. Even in 2015 women are earning for the same work often much less than men. This has to be changed to gain equality between male and female someday. A culture which is dominated by masculinity is also known for being highly success oriented and driven. This aspect can be seen in terms of masculinity but also in terms of individualism where everyone aims to be the best. This masculinity in the Austrian culture can especially be seen around election time, with ferocious, no-holds barred battles between candidates.
Furthermore, you also mentioned the way Austrians think about changes. This could be connected to the high value of uncertainty avoidance in Austria. This means that the society maintain its behaviour and is intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas, as you mentioned in your blog post. In such cultures they aim for rules, innovation may be resisted and security is an important element in individual motivation. Decisions are taken after careful analysis of all available information.
I want to add information about the Austrian culture to your blog entry: In terms of power distance, Austria scores very low. This leads to the solution, why Austrians don´t want to overtake great responsibilities in business – because they have hierarchies for convenience only. Moreover, power is decentralized and managers count on the experience of their team members. Employees expect to be consulted. Control is disliked and attitude towards managers are informal and on first name basis. Communication is direct and participative.
This might seem a little controversial that they want to be rewarded but refuse taking too much responsibility. They aim to be equal in case of power distance but have a big gap between men and women. But this facts have to be seen as different dimensions of our culture. By putting all factors about our culture together, everything about it gets clearer.
Eva Maria Neuhold
March 24, 2016 @ 8:48 am
Although the blog entry about “Management – Austrian Style” was posted 2013, nothing has changed up to now (2016), even that women with equal qualifications earn less of what men would earn in the same job. Companies always confirm that this is not true, but because of another typical characteristic of Austrian – we do not talk about money, particularly the salary – I can only rely on statistics. It is always very strange if people ask in a blunt and direct way about the salary. The questioner is often disappointed when there is no or an evasive answer to this question.
Though some people disagree with your statement about not being direct because of harmony, I support your opinion: When I am looking for management attentions because of problems with other colleagues or departments the result is pointless, especially when the manager is Austrian. I found this pattern of not being direct also in my German colleagues/bosses. They never address the problem in a direct and clear way. It is more a carefully approaching to the matter than a clear and open communication.
I also discovered that male managers are more direct than female managers are, but this is a different story.
Being on time is another characteristic of Austrian (sure, there are exceptions to the rule), but we Austrian are really, really on time and that means 5 minutes before the appointment/meeting/conference. Therefore, managers need to be aware of being on time for business meetings or not to be surprised to find your meeting partner, 5 minutes earlier before your door, if it is an Austrian.
When I chit chat with my business partners during lunch or dinner they often ask about Arnold Schwarzenegger, or the Musical Sound of Music with an excited look in the face. It seems that they expect me to freak out. When I do not cry out joyfully they are often disappointed and ask about national pride. Yes, Austrian people have national pride, but we do not show it in an expressive way. This is a big difference to the American people who openly expresses their delight while Austrians hide their pride.
I hope that I was helpful to add further observations to your blog.
March 28, 2016 @ 11:17 pm
Most of the statements in the post about Austria´s Culture are correct – from my personal point of view and professional experience. This is also stated in Hofstede´s dimensions, even though I think, that it is difficult to generalize the behavior of people and in Austria there are as well very open minded people as men and women with “traditional attitudes”. In some points I don’t agree for example in the focus on security-thinking. The group of entrepreneurs – especially OPCs (one person companies) is growing from year to year. This can be resulting of problems in employed positions, but results more probably also of a big sense for entrepreneurship. There are various points that show the difference in thinking and acting between different generations. The comparison between the culture of the USA and the Austrian culture has to be made in a broader view which includes
more than the gap between men and women (what is significant for a lot of European countries).
March 29, 2016 @ 6:08 pm
I would like to pick up the topic “seek for harmony” from your post. That’ is something I can completely confirm. I think that the seek for harmony is mainly derived from the high uncertainty avoidance which is diagnosed by Geert Hofstede’s Culture dimension model for Austria.
However, you have stated that most mistakes that happen are believed to be “systemic” and not individual. I even thin that in most of the cases this is even true. Dr. William Deming stated that “In 85% the root cause for failing customer‘s expectations is based on failures in organizations and processes, not the failure of people. Therefore it is the responsibility of the management to change the processes and not to change the people!“
Austrian managers tend to act in the same way as employees. Since they also have a high uncertainty avoidance and there is a low power distance, instructions are not given directly. Taking this fact in consideration and the high resistance to change it could happen that most mistakes are systemic and not individual but due to the cultural behavior I is difficult to change the system and achieve improvements
April 10, 2016 @ 6:07 pm
Hi, thank you for the very informative post. I believe you summed up the Austrian mentality at work pretty well. Especially the gossiping, self-sufficient working attitude and not being individualistic. The latter two always put me a little at odds with reality. I will try to clarify what I mean later.
I made the experience (at my workplace) that Austrians are much more direct than our North American counterparts. Can this largely be attributed to our corporate culture in Austria, which is clan culture oriented? That fits very well with Austrian mentality and also eradicated some of the points you mentioned. This makes me believe that Hofstede is not accurate enough, and probably not the best source to make a judgement. It may be a good starting point for a “high-level” overview, however there is also some concern about the way how he derives his results, how old the data is and how it was interpreted (1,2,3).
I can observe the behavior as described in my workspace, yet there are some differences. Working at a Canadian company in Austria I can share some insights that I made personally with the traits described and how that may be a problem at the workspace itself for leadership and also work across the ocean.
I would say that especially the reduced need for directive is a great asset of Austrian employees. In fact, it is the best trait. People will try to achieve something by themselves once they have been communicated the goal clearly. That is important, unclear goals lead to a lot of frustration. The worst mistake is to keep the goal unclear and give instructions. That makes people in Austria feel belittled and manhandled.
I find it often interesting how people would attribute the failure to meet expectations to systematic problems, while also taking great pride in their own skills. It is sometimes very difficult to give feedback, as anything that goes wrong is systematic and anything that goes well their own skills. It is somewhat of a contradiction, and probably caused by the need by “leave me alone, because I am not a child”-mentality, because if you fail, you appear like a child that did not want to listen. There is this masculine mentality to show off once skill and to be a competitor, also at work.
However, this brings me also to the point of “self-sufficiency” and “non-individualism”. How is it possible to be self-sufficient, work on your own and not be individualistic? While Austrians are not individualistic as a society, I think they are very individualistic at work, which does not mean in any way that teamwork is not exercised. Austrians interpret team-work differently, a clear separation of duties is determined as a team and the work is done individually. Appointing a clear responsible or “leader” in a team is pointless and may even foster gossip and dissatisfaction. At the end nobody will claim to be “responsible for success”, because everyone will find himself very soon very alone.
It is interesting how these traits play into each other. Individually excelling at your tasks, gossiping and dissatisfaction if you are directed too much and the avoidance of responsibility if something goes wrong or good.
Good recipe to work with Austrian employees: clarify the goals, agree on timelines, clear up open questions, stay out of the way! You will be surprised, as people will take on task well above their responsibilities to get the job done, and afterwards act as if “it is not a big deal” (of course, their skills are great naturally they will get the job done).
(1) McSweeney, B. (2002). The essentials of scholarship: A reply to Geert Hofstede. Human Relations, 55(11), 1363-1372.
(2) McSweeney, B. (2013). Fashion founded on a flaw: the ecological mono-deterministic fallacy of Hofstede, GLOBE, and followers. International Marketing Review, 30(5), 483-504.
March 5, 2017 @ 10:51 am
As I was reading this blog, I was laughing a little bit because it is so true! I experienced it the same ways as you mentioned – which is sad sometimes. I quickly skimmed some comments and some authors mentioned the Hofstede model which shows that the index of masculinity is 79 (out of 100) in Austria. This value is very high compared to other countries. In professional life the masculine culture is omnipresent not only when thinking about wages, also when thinking of recruitment for jobs. Often women don’t get even a chance to get a specific job even if they have the same qualifications as a male applicant.
Autonomous working conditions often promote development of employees and progress in projects. I realized it in our organization where project managers receive much freedom in their research fields. There are ongoing project reviews were management and team leaders got informed about project progress but they don’t blend into technical or organizational decisions. I really appreciate these working conditions in our organization.
In media there is an ongoing discussion about quota of women in management and that the rate of women should be increased in technical fields (not only in professional fields, also in technical studies). My personal opinion is that also quota of women in management won’t change anything in the professional culture of Austria. This is just a number and anyway mostly ignored. More important would be that wages are equal for the same tasks for women and men.
March 12, 2018 @ 3:46 pm
This blog started already 5 years ago and I think not much has changed in the meantime regarding culture and behavior in the workplace in Austria. Especially when I look at gender inequality. Despite all talk about the advantages of diversity in the workplace, top positions are still mainly held by males. One can only hope that the newly implemented quota of 30% female representation on supervisory boards (at least in stock listed companies and companies with more than 1000 employees) starts eventually trickling down to C level functions and other top roles.
I would like to comment on the statement that Austrians dislike authority at work. While I agree with this observation, I often experienced situations where people are not willing to take accountability for their work or are reluctant to take decisions but rather rely on decisions being made on the top. I always wonder why people do not take the chance to stand up and be more pro-active despite their dislike for authority. Admittedly I think we see a change in this behavior coming from millennials.
I can only confirm Austrian’s reluctance or even resistance to change. I think we are world champions in siting out change. Not only once I have experienced situations where people simply refused to implement changes. Comments such as ‘Management comes and goes with its ideas and changes. I keep doing things the way I always did.’
By waiting long enough they often were successful with this strategy because either management changed or did not thoroughly follow up on implementing changes. Not being thorough enough in implementation and execution is another tendency I see. Austrians like to be vague and wobble around rather than being firm and straight forward. This is why Germans and Austrians very often struggle working together despite the supposedly same language and culture.
March 13, 2018 @ 7:41 am
Adding to my above comment:
While the Austrian style is often liked and appreciated in Germany, this is not always the case for Germans working in Austria. Their style and attitude is often perceived being too direct, too rigid and too process oriented. This tells us that besides taking care of company readiness and product readiness and how to enter a new market, these cultural aspects may not be neglected when a company moves international.
April 9, 2019 @ 8:28 am
Even though the blog is already 6 years old, I need to agree with most people who commented it before me: there is quite some truth within it. I enjoyed reading the post and the comments to it. Here I want to respond to given statements, by narrating some personal experiences.
In the blog is stated that the Austrians don’t like the direct communication and use a lot of indirect and passive statements, which is definitely true, but I agree with Armin Kammel’s response more, where he states that Austrians are in comparison to French or Scandinavians still quite direct. In my years of studying in Finland I was often amazed by the Finnish nature of talking, or better not talking. Of course, this is only based on my personal experience, but I retrieved the Finns, especially the Finnish Fins, not to be very used with direct communication, especially when giving critique. In my point of view on average they were less willing to give critique, but more willing to accept it. This may be a result from their strong value of education and learning, which further stands in some contrast to Austria.
As stated in the blog, Austrians are mostly highly skilled and people are expected to know what they do in their workplace. In my opinion the same is true for Finns. But in contrast to Austrians, they also appreciate the path towards becoming high skilled. They highly value school and getting education. I would argue there is a different perspective in Austria.
Here, when kids start school, you often hear statements such as: ‘Now, the fun is over and serious life starts’, ‘poor thing, now you need to go to school for sooo many years’ and others. Also when you want to become a teacher (or are one) you often hear phrases such as ‘you are also one of those who does not like to work but just have holidays’.
In Finland this is different. There people think it is quite impressive when someone wants to become a teacher, children are celebrated for entering school and also for leaving it as well. All in all there is a lot more focus on the good sides of education. This might be a result from the country’s history, as they had to fight quite a lot for keeping their Finnish culture while being ruled by Sweden or Russia.
For both countries it is true that people make an extensive use of understatements and both fear more standing out than aiming for the stage. However, I further think, that especially Austrians need to be complimented from time to time for doing a good job, which stands a little bit in contrast to their avoidance of individual responsibility and stage fear, but fits into the habit of being performance- and goal oriented.
Going away from the Finns, I want to discuss the statement of Austrians being change-avoiders by elaborating on a company I was working for many years ago. There I was part-time employed as a helping hand. In my perspective, the working environment, even though some gossiping and complaining was on the office-plate every day, was quite good.
However, one day it got sold to a German company. Then the Austrian reluctancy to change as well as being told what to do got very visible. There was poor communication to the new headquarters in Germany, reluctance in accepting commands from them and a lot of complaining. The result were many unnecessary tasks to do .
For example as a helping hand I needed to file the same files three times, as first the Austrian office told me what they want, second the Austrian office told me what the German office wanted and third I needed to file it back the way it was because the Germans was not communicated that the other order just makes more sense in the Austrian company or they rejected the Austrians ideas..that I don’t know, as I was not involved.
Another sign of not wanting the change was that many of the employees handed in their leave right away, after the company was sold.
All in all, I would argue that regardless of the country, change is something that should always be handled carefully in order to be successful. Here finding some kind of consensus about how the change will happen might help. Further acknowledging achievements can be motivational regardless of the culture. Just the way how to acknowledge them might vary.
June 30, 2020 @ 4:25 pm
So far, I worked in 7 different companies and had the pleasure to also gain work experience abroad. First of all, the blog describes very nicely various cultural aspects one has to consider when dealing with Austrians. I absolutely share your opinion when it comes to change in Austrian firms. Most Austrians are very resistant about chance processes and live by the motto “why should we chance, it worked quite well in the past”, which I already experienced first-hand. In my opinion, this fear of chance may refer to the high level of uncertainty avoidance which exists in Austria. Nevertheless, innovation is a top priority in many Austrian companies and, above all, change and adaptability will play an even greater role in the future.
March 7, 2022 @ 11:12 am
This was indeed an informal and interesting read, since I have been thinking about this many times before. Mostly, this comes to my mind when completely new things, or change in general happens to the Austrian society. May it be in terms of a new consumer good or service that is being provided on the market, or a political decision, or so forth. The first thing people in Austria tend to do, is complaining. They immediately find hundred arguments against, why they don’t need that, or any other kind of negative afflicted context, rather than being open and highlighting the positive aspects. No need to say how they miss the chances and opportunities to profit for themselves. Actually, this is something that really bothers me a lot. It turns any development of a new product or company into a justification battle. Whenever a new idea comes up, people immediately look for the unfeasible instead of just trying it out and then evaluating it. But if it doesn’t work, the Austrians would still boast afterwards that they knew that it wouldn’t work and how they were right from the very beginning. Tu felix Austria!
March 8, 2022 @ 6:45 pm
Very interesting blog to read on Management of Austria. Since I am a mixture of two cultures (Serbian & Austrian) and can observe the behavior of Austrian Management styles from another perspective than pure austrian people. I can only agree with the statement that austrians have a dislike for authority, particulary in the workspace. However, nowadays, in the time of Corona, one could observe how Austrians have very great understanding towards the government and the legislation. There they bend without questioning and completely follow the law. What is not quite understandable for me – it is a bit contradictory that they dislike Workplace authority but are completely intentional towards the state and do everything and one could say that they even love this authority coming from the sate. Serbians for comparison always respect the hierarchy and take care to treat people in authority with particular respect. Managers in Serbia are expected to give precise directions to subordinates when assigning tasks so that there is no question what is expected. I love it to have this mixture of two cultures inside of me and can adapt to anything really fast.
April 6, 2022 @ 7:33 pm
As I am living the second time already in the US as an Austrian I had to pick this article for our EMBA 500 Blog Comment request. In general, I totally agree that in the Austrian culture we dislike Micro Managing styles, which is in the US a total no brainer and a daily work process. We intend to setup less meetings and try to drive a quicker and maybe more productive outcome as we do not always lean on the approval from the highest instance as Austrian’s (as also described) have a wide band of knowledge also outside of the responsibilities and make certain decisions right away if needed. The comment about openness I can not agree to 100% as in my experience Austria has a much more direct culture and it is not uncommon that certain meetings or discussions are driven a bit more “harsh” versus America were such topics are silenced right away from the meeting facilitator and “taken offline”. Those conflicts are for sure not needed neither wished, but if they happen the Austrian culture can get quickly over them, and life is good after the meeting versus America were a little outburst could damage a professional relationship for a long time or even for an eternity between just working colleagues.
Thank you for the great article and thoughts about the culture differences!!!
March 21, 2023 @ 3:23 pm
Thank you for the interesting post which summarizes the Austrian working culture quite well although it was posted years ago. Having worked in a big corporation which has undergone a transformation process in the past three years, I was able to gain a lot of insights into the Austrian working style and want to share my experience on particularly three points:
First, I agree that Austrians have a dislike for authority. On the one handy they hate micro-managers, while on the other hand they often don’t want to take the ownership for certain projects and tasks. I believe, it’s sometimes a challenge for managers to find the sweet spot between avoiding micro-managing and guiding people at the same time. At my previous employer, the working culture and expectations of the C-Level management completely changed when a new CEO came in. The new CEO wanted people to take responsibility for their departments, was allowing them to work from where and when they wanted to and trusted them with any decision. While I felt this approach to be good and appreciated among the workforce, a lot of people missed a clear chain of authority and couldn’t handle the freedom of choice, the ownership of decisions and the independent working style for the following reason: Once they made a wrong decision or did not talk new strategies through with the C-Level, there was no one to blame when things went wrong. Thus, in my opinion, the lack of “authority” has a good but also a bad side for many people.
Second, Austrians are not direct, this is true. In most companies, conflicts are still viewed as something bad and most people avoid any disagreements with their bosses but rather gossip around behind their back. It is a cultural thing, people here want to live in “false” harmony and tend not to speak up. Meanwhile, companies feel this behavior to be a huge disadvantage because competitors (often coming from the US) have managed to create a work environment of radical honesty and a failure and learning culture. These work environment fosters creativity and innovation, both needed to survive in today’s challenging and fast-paced business environment. Thus, speaking up and sharing failure is becoming more popular, although it will take us time to get close to what is already standard in the US.
Third, I agree with the statement that Austrians are risk averse which goes along with the forementioned point of lacking a failure culture. In Austria, people don’t “try” things, failure is embarrassing. New roles, start-ups or innovative ideas would be examined from different sides, talked through with hundreds of people until it’s too late. People don’t feel comfortable putting themselves out and risking to crush a new business, fail in a new role or go broke. This leads to difficulties in making decisions, taking risks, sharing failure and creating a learning culture.