Adjusting to a new culture is incredibly challenging, but it can be especially difficult in the workplace. Some cultures are more direct than others when it comes to communication, and something that feels simple, like asking about your coworkers’ personal lives, is appropriate in some places while it may be seen as rude in others. There are also some practical differences that can be difficult to navigate. In Israel, the standard workweek is 43 hours, while it is 40 in Canada, and France has the Right to Disconnect law that specifies employees cannot be required to answer emails outside of work hours, while US employees are often expected to be reachable by email 24/7. These workplace culture differences can be overwhelming.
Canadian culture and workplaces tend to be fairly casual compared to some other cultures. Co-workers address each other by their first names and socialize outside of work, and depending on the company, you may even be able to wear jeans to work. You need to be a citizen or obtain a work permit to legally begin working in Canada. You can either obtain this after emigrating if you come over with your family or are brought over by a Canadian spouse, or beforehand. If you are coming over solely for a job though, you will almost certainly need a job offer to apply and get the ball rolling.
Workplace rules in Canada are divided into written rules, such as policies and contracts, and unwritten rules, which include non-verbal communication and behavioral expectations. The written rules of your job will be found in the contract you sign when you are hired and include things like job expectations, the hours you are. Agreeing to work and the pay you will receive in exchange for those hours. You also have legal rights in the workplace that are protected by law, including the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and more. These laws cover migrant workers and immigrants as well as native Canadians. The laws governing fair treatment in the workplace are extensive, though you hopefully won’t have to familiarize yourself with them too deeply. If you feel like you have been unfairly discriminated against, you can find more information on the Canadian Governments Rights in the Workplace website.
Unwritten rules are a little bit harder to define since they are colloquial by nature. Personal space is important in the workplace in Canada, with employees leaving at least two feet of space between each other at almost all times. While it is customary to shake hands with coworkers and employers when first being introduced, Canadians rarely hug or touch each other in the workplace. Try to maintain an open posture without crossing your arms or slouching too much and make direct eye contact when people are speaking to you to indicate interest and attentiveness. You should also make sure you greet coworkers when in passing and participate in brainstorming meetings and small talk around the office.
Canadian culture values punctuality. While in India it is perfectly acceptable to arrive 15 minutes after the scheduled start of the meeting, this is considered extremely problematic in Canada. Meetings begin exactly when they are scheduled to begin, so make sure you arrive a few minutes before the set start time so you are prepared. If you have been detained in another meeting or are running behind, be sure to let your coworker or employer know and apologize. It is also considered unacceptable to leave work early without preapproval for a good reason. You will be expected to be at work on time and stay until the end of the workday even on a slower work week.
Small talk and short coffee breaks are an important part of the workplace social culture and are considered fine if they are not excessive, but make sure you are not interrupting your coworkers to initiate casual conversations. For example, if you are both leaving a meeting and chat about weekend plans for a few minutes, this indicates you care for your colleagues. But if you take 45 minutes to complain about the outcome of a sports match together, this is seen as wasting company time and is best saved for dinner after work or lunch.
A majority of Canadian workplaces are organized in an easy to follow top-down model, where employees receive feedback and direction from a supervisor, and that supervisor from his or her supervisor, and so on. While there is collaboration that occurs, every employee in the company does not have an equal amount of decision-making power. If you are trying to solve a problem or authorize a decision, you have to speak with the appropriate person with the right amount of authority to get things done. You should also keep your supervisor apprised of things and follow the instructions and suggestions that they give you.
This hierarchy can make addressing problems a bit easier as well. In most cases, you want to begin by addressing a problem with the person you have an issue with directly. If that doesn’t solve the issue, take it to your supervisor, or their supervisor if they are the one you have a problem with.
Teamwork is valued very highly in Canada, and networking is vital for furthering your career and obtaining future jobs. You need to demonstrate that you can work effectively with others, hear other peoples’ ideas, and efficiently split responsibilities when working together on projects. Make sure you treat everyone with respect, from the janitor that cleans the building up to the president of the company. You will have a very difficult time succeeding in a Canadian workplace if you are unable to get along and work efficiently with other people.
The Canadian workforce is fairly diverse, so as long as you are aware of cultural differences and are sensitive to them, you should be able to resolve problems that arise relatively easily. In general, employees do well if they have a positive attitude, are motivated to be productive, can be flexible and adaptable when challenges arise, are honest about their workload and schedule, and can be held accountable for mistakes when they arise. If you are working on too many things to take on another project, be open about that and ask for support or turn the project down. Never agree to a requirement that you know you can’t meet and be open about trying to adapt to the workplace culture. It is also essential that you are fluent in English and depending on where you are located you may be expected to be fluent in French as well. Don’t overrepresent your language abilities when you are hiring in or you will have trouble completing the job responsibilities once you begin.
Canada is a welcoming, diverse country with inclusive workplace culture and a wide variety of opportunities. While there are always challenges when you move to another country, we believe Canada is worth the effort. If you’re willing to take the plunge and try to adjust, you will likely find your work life to be highly rewarding.
Foreign temporary workers have their own sets of rights! Learn about them here.