As a newcomer, familiarizing yourself with Canadian work culture can give you an advantage from the very start of your job search. If you’re looking for your first job in Canada, employers are more likely to hire you if you demonstrate alignment with the local work culture. Once you start working, your ability to quickly adapt to your company’s organizational culture can impact your ability to work well with your team, earn recognition for your contributions, and grow your career.
Adjusting to Canada’s business culture is also important for newcomer entrepreneurs. It can play an important role in building stakeholder relationships, generating new business, and effectively delivering your products and services. In this article, we provide insights and tips from some newcomer professionals and entrepreneurs on how to adapt to Canadian work culture.
In this article:
- The basics of professional work culture in Canada
- The culture of networking in Canada
- Working as part of a team in Canada
- Canadian culture in business meetings
- Sales and negotiations in Canada
Business hours in Canada
In many countries, long work hours and working on weekends are acceptable and even expected. In Canada, however, the typical work week lasts from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, although longer or different work hours may be common in some industries.
“In Canada, people respect the sanctity of their working hours,” says Vishveshwar Jatain, who moved to Canada from India in 2020 and now works as the director of marketing and sales enablement for an ad-tech startup. “You’ll rarely receive emails or messages after hours and, even when that happens, it’s considered perfectly appropriate to reply the following business day. Unless it’s urgent, it’s better to schedule your messages or emails for 9 am the next day rather than intruding on your colleagues’ personal time,” he adds.
Professional dress code
The dress code in Canada is fairly conservative and formal unless you’re in a back-end role or an organization with a casual work environment. If your work involves regular business meetings or client interactions, business formal is the preferred attire.
Punctuality and time management
Canadians appreciate punctuality and will not usually wait more than 15 minutes if you’re late for a meeting. Even if you’re in a senior position, it’s considered rude and disrespectful to keep people waiting. If you’re running late, send a message to let people know when they should expect you.
Being late to work regularly will make you seem unprofessional and may raise questions about your commitment and time management skills. Similarly, missing work deadlines repeatedly and without a clear reason may lead your team or manager to believe you’re not interested in your work or incapable of performing your duties.
Equality is ingrained in the Canadian business culture
In the Canadian workplace, people are treated equally and fairly, and discrimination on the basis of age, gender, sexual orientation, or race is illegal. Respect is not determined by designation or position, and younger professionals are often included in meetings and asked to share their views. Workplaces are often diverse and it’s important to appreciate and respect cultural differences.
In Canada, everyone is treated with respect, regardless of whether they hold a labour intensive blue-collar job, a survival job, a high-level corporate position, or run a lucrative business.
“Newcomers often worry about how others perceive them and hesitate to take up certain professions,” says Christopher Gonsalvez, who moved to Canada from Dubai in 2020 and started a lawn mowing business while he looked for a suitable job in Canada. “If you have talent and passion, trying something new can work to your advantage.”
Emphasis on soft skills in Canadian workplaces
Technical skills alone are not enough for succeeding in the Canadian professional environment. Soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, leadership, and decision-making abilities, are becoming increasingly important. In fact, during the interview process, most Canadian employers look for candidates who have a mix of hard and soft skills needed for the job.
Soft skills such as communication and relationship-building skills are just as important for entrepreneurs. “Before you talk about business, it’s important to build a rapport with your business partners and customers and gain their trust,” says Priya Prince, who arrived in Canada in 2018 and founded GreenHarvest Hydroponic Inc. with her husband. “Building a relationship outside of work can help you learn about the Canadian market and understand the culture. Plus, you need strong communication skills to get your ideas across effectively,” she adds.
Learn about in-demand technical and soft skills in hospitality, engineering, sales, and digital marketing jobs to get a better idea of what employers in Canada are looking for.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a professional, networking is essential for your career in Canada. As a newcomer to Canada, a strong professional network can help you access the hidden job market, get more visibility in your industry, learn about the Canadian job market, or find a mentor. Networking is a two-way street, so be prepared to share your skills, knowledge, or even your connections with the people you meet.
“Listening is key during networking, especially if you’re new to Canada or getting started in your career. When you have a good understanding of what your connection needs, you can add value by sharing your own experiences,” says Christopher. “Be careful about how you approach people. It’s good to build some sort of engagement, such as by liking, commenting on, or sharing their social media posts, before you ask someone for support,” he advises.
Small business owners, especially those in professional services and business-to-business sectors, often rely on their connections to attract or reach out to new customers. The Canadian market is relatively small and well connected, so your reputation within your network can impact the growth of your business. “Your connections can be useful in the business environment, so it’s important to network with people regardless of their level within an organization,” says Priya.
|Building your professional network from scratch in Canada? Download our guide on networking from newcomers for useful tips to improve your networking skills and learn more about the importance of networking for your career in Canada.|
Management style in Canada
Modern Canadian organizations increasingly embrace a collaborative leadership approach. Unlike some cultures where leaders dictate and employees follow without questioning, in Canada the management style is more participative. Management will often involve employees in the decision-making process and follow an approach the team agrees on, making the company’s growth a shared success.
“One thing that surprised me when I started working in Canada was the level of transparency within organizations. Leadership teams here are usually quite forthcoming with details of company performance and growth, so it’s easier to see the impact your contribution makes to the business,” says Vishveshwar.
Most Canadian companies also value their employees showing initiative in identifying problems and proposing solutions to them, or stepping out of their prescribed role to try something new.
As part of a team, you’re expected to speak up and participate in meetings, regardless of your age or years of experience. Canadian employers and managers appreciate workers who are interested in learning, so don’t hesitate to ask questions or contribute your ideas. However, be careful not to interrupt conversations and wait for your turn to speak.
Focus on team building
In most organizations, there is a lot of focus on team building and team activities. Even during the pandemic, companies are keen on using virtual group activities to keep people engaged and motivated. This helps improve team cohesion and can reduce attrition rates.
Giving and receiving feedback the Canadian way
As a newcomer, mastering the art of giving feedback in a culturally appropriate manner can be tricky. In many countries, managers are direct and candid while giving feedback, but in Canada, it’s important to neutralize negative feedback.
The “sandwich approach” is popular in Canada, where you start on a positive note, slide in the negative feedback, and end with positive feedback. Good feedback should be constructive—it should identify the problem and provide clear directions for improvement. While receiving feedback, it’s important to keep an open mind and not take criticism personally. Remember, it is a reflection of your work, not you. It is also customary to thank people for their feedback.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, always make an appointment in advance. It’s considered impolite to show up unannounced or schedule meetings on short notice. You can request an appointment over the phone, email, or LinkedIn, explaining why you want to meet with them. If you’ve never spoken to them before, getting a warm introduction from a common acquaintance can help facilitate the connection.
Once you arrive, introduce yourself with your first name. You can exchange business cards after your meeting. When you set up the meeting, be sure to include an agenda, so people know what to expect and can come prepared. One exception here is coffee chats, which are an integral part of Canadian business culture. Coffee chats are informal networking meetings that don’t necessarily require an agenda. However, going in prepared with a list of questions can help you gather valuable information about an organization, job opportunity, or role, especially if you’re preparing for a job interview or looking to switch career fields.
In-person business meetings
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was customary to greet professional colleagues and acquaintances with a handshake. In French Canada, such as in Quebec, it was considered acceptable to greet a colleague of the opposite sex with a kiss on the cheek, even if you didn’t know them well. As a result of social distancing during the pandemic, many people now prefer bumping elbows or waving hello when entering a meeting.
Canadians are very particular about their physical space and standing too close can make people uncomfortable. Be sure to stay at least half a metre apart (more where possible and during COVID-19) when you’re in a room with others.
Small talk in the Canadian work culture
Small talk is integral to Canadian culture, both inside and outside the workplace. Make sure you allocate some time for it while creating your meeting agenda. Small talk is also a great way of getting to know people you’re meeting outside of their professional lives and finding interests you may have in common.
Small talk usually involves informal, ice-breaker conversation topics, such as the weather, sports, or popular TV shows or movies. Steer clear of controversial subjects such as religion and politics, and avoid asking personal questions. Canadians tend to keep their personal and professional lives separate and value their privacy.
Be mindful of your body language
Maintaining eye contact during a conversation shows you’re interested in the speaker and subject. Avoiding eye contact may be perceived as untrustworthiness, a lack of interest, or low self-confidence, however, looking away periodically is acceptable. Don’t slouch, cross your arms, or fidget as these gestures may give the impression you’re bored or angry.
Promoting your products or services in Canada
One cultural difference many newcomers need to adjust to in the Canadian work environment is the way products and services are marketed and sold. Being pushy may get you business in other countries, but in Canada, it can do more harm than good. Make sure you don’t come across as aggressive or pushy, as that can annoy people and make them wary about doing business with you.
Sales communication in Canada focuses on the value proposition of the product or service, as well as the expertise of your organization in your domain. Avoid exaggerating the benefits and features of your products or services as it can make people suspicious.
If you’re a newcomer looking for a sales or marketing job in Canada, read our job market analysis for more information on the scope of your profession, in-demand roles, and job search tips.
Be prepared for negotiations
Avoid approaching negotiations without adequate preparation. Canadians don’t appreciate evasive answers and expect the business people and professionals they’re dealing with to be knowledgeable about their products and services.
Canadians make decisions in a rational, logical manner and are more likely to be convinced by facts than passion or emotion, so use data strategically. If required, ask a subject matter expert to accompany you to address questions outside your area of expertise. Should a disagreement arise, handle it diplomatically and respectfully.
Listening politely is not a sign of agreement
Canadians are usually polite, but their politeness should not be taken as a sign of agreement or even interest. A prospective client may smile, nod, or offer their appreciation while you make your case or present a pitch. That does not necessarily mean they are willing to sign a contract with you. If you’re unsure of how your meeting went, wait until you hear from them with a final answer.
Gifting etiquette in the business environment
It’s not common to offer or receive gifts in professional or business environments in Canada. There are some exceptions, such as a small gift when you sign a business agreement. Remember, your gift may be opened as soon as it is received so make sure it’s appropriate.
Avoid expensive gifts or cash as they can be considered a bribe. Corruption and bribery are illegal in Canada and you may run the risk of being blacklisted by companies or even face legal penalties.
As a newcomer, you may find the work culture in Canada different from what you were used to back home, and it can take some time to adapt your working style. However, the sooner you embrace the Canadian way of doing business, the sooner you’ll be able to make your presence felt within the organization and advance in your professional journey.