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Workplace culture - the next level


Familiarising yourself with the workplace culture of your practicum placement may help you fit into the organisation more easily – and work more effectively within it. After the first week or so of your practicum you will probably be ready to try and negotiate the workplace culture in greater depth. The following discussion intends to give you a broad overview of the possible cultural ‘confusion’ that may arise in different workplace settings. After you have read this, return to the Teacher’s Voice page, check out the additional resources, and complete the activities.

Workplace culture

All workplaces have their own distinctive ‘culture’, i.e. a particular set of expectations, values and ways of operating. Such workplace cultures may differ in terms of an organisation’s size, whether it is in the public or private sector, or whether the core activity is human services, commercial or technical.

In the short term, organisational culture is simply something you have to adapt to as a student on placement. Taking a longer view, you need to consider the workplace culture in terms of how it fits with your personal values. This can be particularly important in terms of your career choices, since some employers have strong views on recruiting staff who ‘fit’ their workplace culture.

Shifting between university and workplace cultures

Regardless of your particular situation, you will probably find differences between what is expected of you on your placement and what you are used to as a university student, as illustrated in one student’s experience in a human services agency.

What happens when the differences between the workplace and university cultures are too great, particularly between university and industrial cultures? This extract from David Lodge’s novel ‘Nice Work’ will give you an idea of the shock you may experience when such a culture clash occurs.

Working in rural/remote areas

If your placement is in a rural or remote area, you may find the overall rural culture very different and perhaps challenging, as described in Kenneth Cook’s novel ‘Wake in Fright’. Although set in the 1950s, this extract from the book illustrates an urbanite’s extreme culture shock when sent to teach in a remote location. Hopefully your experiences will not be quite so brutal!

Working overseas

If your practicum placement is in a foreign country, the impact of cultural differences in the workplace can be dramatic. For some interesting personal experiences of working overseas, check out, in particular the sections entitled ‘Culture shock/relocation’, ‘Global etiquette’ or ‘International faux pas’. Also, try your hand at one of the cross-cultural quizzes.

Sometimes the cultural differences involved in working in a foreign workplace can be too hard to deal with, resulting in cultural conflict and an end to the placement. This, however, is the most extreme result of workplace culture differences, and a very rare occurrence. You will not be expected to be an expert in a foreign workplace culture immediately and you will be forgiven for mistakes you might make in your early attempts to negotiate the transition.

As part of your preparation for your placement, you may find it helpful to read (‘Changing Industries, Changing Countries’). A more formal discussion of the problems of transacting business in a foreign culture, specifically the cultural implications of doing business in Indonesia, is provided at

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