Canadian Workplace Culture
Canadian workplace culture may be very different from the workplace culture in your country of origin.
Workplace culture is the norms of social behavior acceptable in a workplace. While work environments vary depending on the organization, there are basic rules common to most Canadian workplaces.
Canadian organizations rely on clear and effective communication.
Communication can be nonverbal, verbal, or written.
Verbal communication is a two-way process. It is what, how, and when you say anything and listen to others.
- Greetings: When arriving at work in the morning or leaving at the end of the day, it is customary to greet and make eye contact with all co-workers regardless of their position.
- Personal Names: It is common to address co-workers and business associates by their first name, including managers or supervisors. However, when introducing someone, use both their first and last names with an appropriate title.
- Listen with Respect: Do not interrupt anyone who is speaking. Always wait for your turn to speak. You should turn off your cell phone or put it on silent during meetings and conferences.
- Speaking Up: Participate in group discussions and meetings.
- Asking Questions: Ask questions if you do not understand procedures or instructions rather than be confused or make mistakes.
- “Small Talk”: Some conversation is expected and shows you care about your colleagues. However, do not ask directly about personal affairs such as religion, age, and income. Socializing for a few minutes is acceptable, but engaging in long conversations during office hours is not.
- Telephone: The general norms of communication apply to telephone conversations. Usually, telephone calls are made to office numbers (not personal cell phones) during office hours.
With the COVID pandemic regulations, many meetings are held online via video/telephone conferencing. Regardless of the medium of communication, the culture is the same.
At any workplace, you will receive and initiate written communications. This process starts with your first application for a job. Management may tell you about policies in these communications.
Formats of written communications:
- Typed letters are often used in official communications.
- Most of the written communication is digital via email or attachments to emails.
- Online messaging is used in some workplaces.
Style of written communication:
- A formal style is used in communication with government departments.
- When communicating with clients or suppliers, a semi-formal style is used.
- Colleagues within a department often use a more casual style.
Non-verbal communication is important in interviews and at work. Some aspects of this are:
- Personal Space: Canadians value their personal space and rarely touch each other while meeting or talking in the workplace.
- Eye Contact: Direct eye contact shows that you are interested and paying attention. However, be careful not to stare.
- Shaking Hands: A firm handshake is common when meeting someone for the first time. Both men and women greet each other with a handshake.
- Dress & Appearance: It is usually best to dress formally and be well-groomed until you are more familiar with your workplace. In most professional positions, jeans, shorts, or revealing clothing are discouraged.
Canadians have great respect for the law. COVID pandemic regulations have added another level of body language norms. For example, you are expected to maintain social distance, wear a face mask, and avoid handshakes when required by regulations.
“Uniformity” has an important role in Canadian workplace culture. While every individual is expected to have an opinion and bring diversity to the workplace, it is important to follow the workplace culture, such as:
- Teamwork is highly valued in Canada. Working well with others, sharing responsibility, and mutual respect are core values.
- Canadian employers value punctuality. Arrive on time and do not leave work early. For meetings, be there a few minutes earlier than the start time.
- Canadian organizations have a hierarchy. Employees are expected to follow their supervisor’s directions.
- Display respect and courtesy to everyone at all times.
Many organizations have written policy manuals. Some values and norms are unwritten. Often, the easiest way to figure out a particular workplace culture is to observe others and to ask.
Diversity & Inclusiveness
Diversity and inclusiveness are core values rooted in Canadian society.
“A diverse workforce in the public service is made up of individuals who have an array of identities, abilities, backgrounds, cultures, skills, perspectives and experiences that are representative of Canada’s current and evolving population.”
“An inclusive workplace is fair, equitable, supportive, welcoming, and respectful. It recognizes, values, and leverages differences in identities, abilities, backgrounds, cultures, skills, experiences, and perspectives that support and reinforce Canada’s evolving human rights framework.”
Building a Diverse and Inclusive Public Service: Final Report of the Joint Union/Management Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion.
Canadians are protected based on categories such race, national or ethnic origin, religion, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, marital status, disability, genetics, family status, and criminal convictions for which a pardon has been granted.
Human rights laws and other regulations legally protect these values.
The Government of Nova Scotia
The Government of Nova Scotia has created reports, policies, and guidelines on diversity and inclusion.
The Human Rights Act provides the legal framework.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission
The Canadian Human Rights Commission
In addition to the general workplace culture, healthcare professionals are governed by legal and ethical standards.
Most healthcare workplaces are multidisciplinary environments. Various professionals work as a team to deliver the best health care to patients.
Remember, other health care professionals do not work for you. Rather, they work with you.
Dealing with patients and their family is an important part of being a physician. The healthcare workplace norms build on the Canadian Workplace Culture and incorporate Medical Professional Ethics.
One aspect of this is communication in the healthcare environment. This includes communication with patients, families, other healthcare professionals, and various organizations.
Supporting Diverse Needs in Healthcare
Gender identities and sexual orientations are a protected category within Canadian law. 2SLGBTQIA+ (two-spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and others) is a term used to describe various sexual and gender minorities. These individuals may have specific needs that medical professionals should be aware of. More information can be found at the Nova Scotia Health website.
Canada is home to people of all ages. Geriatric medicine is a term for medicine that is designed to help aging adults. More information can be found in this Canadian Medical Association report.
Younger Canadians may also have specific needs that medical professionals should be aware of. Nova Scotia offers various services related to youth health, such as Youth Health Centres.
Canada is home to a variety of Indigenous cultures. These groups are the original inhabitants of this region. Indigenous communities may have their own needs and traditional forms of medicine. The Canadian government provides resources for more information.
One important branch of medical care is mental health. Mental health issues include a variety of concerns such as addictions, anxiety, and depression. Healthcare workers must be prepared to assist patients with their mental and emotional well-being. Nova Scotia Health offers useful information on its website.