Inspired by this question, I'm left wondering if the phrase “work ethics” has a slightly different meaning in Australian English than in other dialects.

I came across this term some time back: Flexible work ethics in an ad for an IT job. Anyone know what it could mean? Im sure its not as dodgy as it sounds

To my (US) ear, it sounds like the ad is looking for people willing to engage in ethically questionable business practices. I'd hope that's not the case, and that it's just a nuance in the meaning of “work ethics.” My best guess is that “flexibe work ethics” actually means “willing to work flexible hours.”

A quick search reveals several job listings that use the phrase, mostly in Australia.

Is this a case of differing meaning in a dialect, or is it just really, really poorly worded corporate-speak?


While I have seen it on Aussie job sites, I don't believe that the use of this phrase is endemic to the Antipodes.

Flexible work ethic (normally used in the singular and rarely in the plural) is basically used to indicate that you should be ready to be a "team player" when it comes to working hours, sick leave, etc. If it's busy, you might have to work long hours. If somebody is sick, you might have to come in on your off-day to cover for them. If the office is short-handed, you might be expected to cope with additional duties beyond your assigned purview.

In other words, we are going to push you and you're required to budge.

While I agree that the use of ethic here is odd, I suspect that it is being used in the sense of principles rather than morality.

  • I concur with this analysis, as a British English speaker it is exactly the same, I would read into this as potentially meaning, 'Prepared to be flexible in work in regards to your team.' though its actual meaning is more like 'Prepare to engage in illegal activity.' Much like Thylacine writes, its just poor writing on top of poor writing. It really depends on the overall context, but its poor use of wording either way.
    – RustyUK
    Dec 6 '19 at 7:06

As an Australian English speaker, I can assure you that there is nothing mysteriously Australian in this usage. Any Australian should be able to recognise how dubious the phrase "flexible work ethics" sounds, just as you do as an American English speaker.

The author of the job ad is trying (but failing) to convey that the applicant should have a strong work ethic around the ability to be flexible in their working hours, roles, etc. The subtleties and ambiguity we picked up immediately in his sentence have gone straight over this guy's head.

We are simply looking at an example of the horribly mangled language that is rampant in job ads the world over. People are copying and pasting and plagiarising whatever sounds important and at the cutting edge of recruitment policy, without really understanding half of what they write into these ads.

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