To celebrate my work anniversary in my current job, I thought of sharing something that is work-related. After a few years of working in Canada, I had numerous discoveries (and learnings) about Canadian workplace, including some work practices that I have learned to adapt in the past 8 years.
Not counting my short stint in a government office and a Filipino-owned travel agency, I’ve worked for three big Canadian companies since I came to Canada. I worked for almost 2 years in Canada‘s largest quick service coffee restaurant chain as Store Front Service Staff; 5 years in a food retail company wherein I started as Pension and Benefits Administrator until I became Office Manager until I resigned in 2016. I am currently employed by the regional health authority in the city of Winnipeg as Pension and Benefits Regional CS Representative.
I guess those who immigrated to Canada like me and have experienced working in other countries outside Canada would agree with me that every workplace has its own culture. Like what I mentioned, I had a very short stint in a government office, 2 months after we arrived in Winnipeg, I got hired as Administrative Assistant. The job was not hard but I had to quit the job because of child care issues. But I will not deny that even if I feel that I know what to do and I know exactly what the job is, I felt uncomfortable and I am clueless on how I should be relating with my co-workers at work. I don’t even know how should I respond to co-workers who greet me each morning. Yes, that is the very first thing that I noticed when I started working, when you see your co-workers for the first time in the day, they offer you a greeting or a simple “Good morning!” Canadians give importance to the standard of basic civility that his or her co-worker is entitled to and it would seem rude on your part not to do the same.
That was just the start there are a lot of some other things that I learned from my 8 years’ experience of working here in Canada, but I am not saying that these are standard norms, these are just based on my own observations. I will be honest to say that in the first few months (or years) that I was working, I am certain that I had committed cultural faux pas (or maybe until now I still do), but, I guess it really takes time and a lot of practice 😊
Being the so called “foreigner” in the past 8 years, here are the things that I learned/discovered:
- SMALL TALK. Starting and making small talk is one of the things that I am poor at. There may not be a written rule but small talk is part of Canada’s friendly culture especially in the workplace but believe me, it is a very good way to feel comfortable with the people you meet or talk at work. Small talk helps to break the ice and a great way of starting a small talk is by simply saying, “how are you?” Like what I said, I am not good at this, at first, I feel pressured whenever my boss or a coworker ask me how my weekend went. I felt the need to come up with a really sensible answer to make our conversation really interesting, until I realized that “It was great or it was a very busy weekend” is a polite and enough answer, of course, it would be nice if you ask him or her back by “how about you?”
- INFORMAL HIERARCHAL RELATIONSHIP. Two months before leaving the Philippines for Canada, I was still working, I could still recall how we are used to addressing our immediate supervisors and the executives of the company as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Since workplace hierarchy here in Canada is more informal, I have keep reminding myself of not calling my boss as “sir” and “ma’am” and call them by their first name instead. And since everyone is on first-name basis, one of the challenge when you are new in a company is to identify “who is who” in the company, hence, whenever I am unsure who I am meeting or exchanging email with at work, the first thing I will do is to look them up in the company directory to see their position title.
- COFFEE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF EVERYONE’S DAY. When I was still working as Storefront Service Staff, I realized how coffee plays an integral part of Canadian employees because of the long line up in the drive thru each morning. People grab a cup of coffee before going to work. In any workplace, it is a common sight to see your coworkers coming in to the office carrying a cup of Tim Hortons or Starbucks or Robin’s Donuts. I had the chance working with thoughtful coworkers who would come in the morning and will not just grab coffee for themselves but will even bring a cup of coffee for our team. Each one of us also had our turn to pay him back by doing the same thing.
- WORK-LIFE BALANCE. As of this writing, I am a proud employee of one of the top 20 employers of Manitoba that cultivated a reputation of being a great place to work for giving importance to work/life balance. Most companies would have programs for their employees that will support those who have competing priorities that they need to attend to. Hence, there are a lot of employers who offer work from home or would have a flexible work schedule, while some employers allow their employees to take personal and indefinite vacation.
- EMPLOYERS’ VALUE CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. Corporate social responsibility is a business initiative that is very important to most Canadian companies. My former employer was very committed in putting more discipline into social-responsibility efforts and because of that I had the chance to participate in various company activities that promote environmental and social well-being in the community such as plant-a-tree activities, shoreline cleanup and other waste-reducing activities as well as fund raising drives for charities and attending volunteer events. My current employer is a big supporter of a national charity hence we frequently receive mass email soliciting support to activities that will help raise funds for the charity. It is also common for some co-workers who personally participates in fund-raising drives and seeks sponsorship from their colleagues at work.
- EMPLOYEES MANAGE HIS/HER CAREER. Over the years, I also noticed that Canadian employers expect the employees to manage his or her career. Depending on your personal career goals, if you are interested in a more challenging job, you should communicate this with your supervisor or your manager. Though it may take some time for you to move ahead and get the job that you want but taking initiative will let your employer know that you have the ability to contribute in other projects. Less than a year after my husband was hired as a part time permanent Warehouse Assembler, he applied for the position of Warehouse Supervisor. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the position but after announcing who got the job, the (then) General Manager spoke to him and gave him a pat on the back and told him that he is happy to know that he is interested to move up. A year after that my husband has been considered to a full time permanent position and after another year he was promoted to Warehouse Supervisor.
- FREE FOOD FOR EMPLOYEES. I am not sure if it’s just in the companies I worked for but I noticed that whenever there’s something that is being celebrated or a big project was completed “free food” will soon be available for everyone. I guess food is seen as a way of rewarding the employees. In the retail company that I worked for we have a number of reasons and occasions to celebrate, hence, we had free breakfast at one point, we had barbeque lunch, we also received free bag of cookies, chocolate bars and even popcorns.
- EXCHANGE OF PLEASANTRIES. Even before we came to Canada I’ve heard a lot of good things about Canadians. Being nice and polite is one of the few things that seem to define Canadians. I couldn’t agree more because I’ve experience that even at work, even we are in a hurry and we are too busy to strike up a conversation, it is but normal that your coworkers will always acknowledge your presence even through a simple hi. And every day, there’s always, always, always expressions like “have a great day,” “have a good evening,”“see you later,” or “talk to you later” that you will hear… however, there are some words of pleasantry that you should not take as it is. I remember a friend’s story on her first day in her first job in Canada, when she was about to leave at the end of the day one of her coworkers waved at her and told her, “see you later!”. That left her wondering why did her coworker said see you later and for a while she thought that she needs to wait for her… Yup, there are expressions that you should learn not to take literally, you can always say “see you later!” or “talk to you later!” even if you don’t have future plans to do so as it is taken as a more pleasant way of ending the conversation.
I am sure that there are other Canadian workplace characteristics that I failed to enumerate here… how about you, what’s on your list?