Immigrants bring valuable knowledge and skills to the Canadian economy; however, many of them experience confusion and communication challenges when they start working in Canada.

Immigrants bring valuable knowledge and skills to the Canadian economy; however, many of them experience confusion and communication challenges when they start working in Canada. This confusion often comes from the differences between the way work is done in their countries of origin and in Canada. A better understanding of the uniqueness of the Canadian workplace culture can help immigrants overcome their challenges and advance their careers.

Here are some of the main characteristic of the Canadian workplace.

1 – Egalitarian culture

Canadian workplace is far more egalitarian than the work environment of the countries where immigrants come from. A high percentage of the immigrants come from highly hierarchical cultures (for example China and India) where managers are responsible for taking most of the decisions, guide their employees in their day-to-day activities and give detailed orders. In egalitarian cultures like the Canadian, however, employees still have to follow the directions of their managers, but they are expected to take ownership of their tasks, to take initiatives, to identify problems and suggest solutions. If newcomers from hierarchical cultures do not understand the egalitarian style in Canada, they might wait to receive orders or expect that their managers would guide them in every single step of the working process. On the other hand, Canadian supervisors might judge their employees from hierarchical cultures as lacking initiative and find them “too dependable”. Therefore, adapting to the egalitarian style is crucial for a successful career in Canada.

2 – Indirect feedback

Canadian communication style is direct and concise. However, when it comes to feedback, things are different. Canadians are careful not to hurt others’ feelings, so when they give negative feedback, they wrap it in positive comments, for example, “Your report is very good. It would have been even better if you have clarified the main idea. Excellent first attempt!” Unfortunately, employees who come from other cultures and are not aware of the Canadian style of giving feedback might not be able to identify the critical messages and might think that they have been praised. As a result, they may fail to take corrective actions and this can damage their careers.

Immigrant employees can learn to identify negative feedback by joining communication courses and programs in Canada, by observation or by seeking advice from co-workers who have longer experience in the Canadian workplace.

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3 – Importance of “soft skills”

In the Canadian workplace, interpersonal skills, also called “soft skills”, are often considered more important than the technical, “hard skills”. “Soft skills” include teamwork, integrity, flexibility, positive attitude, time management, presentation skills, leadership qualities and the ability to motivate co-workers. One of the reasons “soft skills” are becoming so indispensable is that the Canadian work environment is becoming increasingly diverse. Good interpersonal skills facilitate effective and harmonious communication between people from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds, which is crucial for a successful work process.

4 – Need of being mindful of the cultural differences

In multicultural Canada tension at work can be a result not of personal but of cultural differences. Learning about these differences, keeping an open mind, not making fast judgements and jumping to conclusions can prevent many conflicts at work, reduce stress and contribute to a healthy and productive environment.

A better understanding of the uniqueness of the Canadian workplace culture can help immigrants overcome their challenges and advance their careers.

5 – Role of visibility in career advancement

Many immigrants in Canada, especially those who come from hierarchal cultures, expect that their valuable skills, hard work and years of experience in Canada would be enough to ensure their career advancement. However, they are often disappointed when they realize that their efforts have not been noticed. The problem is that they haven’t taken into consideration the difference between their countries of origin’s work culture and the Canadian one. In hierarchical cultures, for example, managers are much more engaged with the work of their employees, know how much effort they had made every day, what capabilities and potential they have, and how long they have been holding their positions. So if an employee performs well, when time comes the manager decides to promote him/her. In egalitarian cultures like Canada, however, employees are responsible for their own careers. They have to let their managers know that they expect a promotion. And also they have to make sure that the managers are aware of the good job they have done. Gaining such “visibility” can be challenging, especially for immigrants who came from countries where being humble is considered a virtue.

Sabina Michael, education program manager at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and career coach gives advice on this issue: ”When you are about to do something fantastic, tell everybody what you are going to do, do it well and then tell them how well you have done it. People should know what you are doing, what your potential is and talk about you. But you have to be careful – because in Canada there is a fine line between telling people about yourself and boasting.”

Lucy Slavianska