Managing in Canada
Working in a Diverse Country
Do you know that more than 100 languages are spoken in Canada?
And do you know that more than two-thirds of Canada's population growth comes from immigration?
If you're going to be managing a team in Canada, or even managing a Canadian team from overseas, you might think that Canada is no different from any other Western country. But you should be aware of certain clear differences if you want to succeed with your team.
In this article, we'll explore what you need to know to live, work, and manage people in Canada.
Like most countries around the world, Canada has a diverse workforce, which varies greatly between the different provinces and cities. The strategies and tips in this article will provide you with a good understanding of Canada and its workforce. But it's important to be flexible, and use your own best judgment when managing your team.
Canada, which is geographically twice the size of the United States, is an incredibly diverse country. It has two official languages – English and French – and owes much of its growth and development to immigration from a wide variety of countries.
This is what underlies Canada's policy of multiculturalism, and the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 ensures that federal institutions act in ways that are sensitive to the diverse cultures that make up Canadian society.
Because of Canada's commitment to diversity and multiculturalism, your experience in Canada can be very different depending on the region that you're working and living in. For instance, in the province of Quebec, many people speak French, and you may need to learn the language to communicate effectively. If you work for the federal government, particularly in the eastern provinces, you may be required to be bilingual (French and English).
Canada is a vast country.
Much of eastern Canada is heavily influenced by French culture. However, there are large pockets of French-speaking people living in western Canada as well.
Western Canada, including the Prairie Provinces, is predominantly English-speaking and this is the main language of business in most of the provinces except Quebec. There is also a large Asian influence on the west coast of Canada, although much of the country is ethnically-diverse.
First Nations people also influence Canada's diversity and there has been a significant resurgence of pride within this culture. Three Canadian territories –Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut – are mostly aboriginal, and there are many native reservations in Canada that have their own governments.
Given the level and scope of diversity throughout Canada, it's impossible to characterize one region as conservative versus liberal, or as having one set of values versus another. What's important is that you recognize the cultural diversity present in the community, and try to learn as much as you can about the people you work with, so that you can relate to them and work effectively with them as a team.
Because there is a long standing history of tension between French-speaking and English-speaking people in Canada, it's wise to stay neutral with your comments. Get to know your people as individuals, without categorizing them as French or English, or with any of other cultural affiliation.
You're likely be more affected by tensions in the Eastern provinces. However these pressures can be present in all parts of Canada, so it's good to be aware of the issue.
The Canadian climate has four distinct seasons – winter, spring, summer, and autumn (fall). Each season has a unique climate, as does each region.
In the northern part of the country it's cold much of the year. If you live on the west coast it's quite rainy but the temperature is fairly mild all year round.
Summers in southern Ontario and Quebec are hot and humid. In the south central region of British Columbia there is a desert region that that sees little precipitation - rain or snow.
On the prairies, winters will be cold with lots of snow and low temperatures – particularly when wind chill is taken into account. However, during the other seasons, the climate is mild and pleasant.
Because the climate will impact everything – from the way that you dress to how long it takes you to get to work each morning, its important to research the area you are moving to so you can stock up on warm clothing, umbrellas, or sunscreen.
Canadians are fashionable people and the type of work that you do will have the most influence on the type of clothes you wear.
Many of the organizations that operate in large Canadian cities have a conservative dress code. Dark colors – like black, navy, and gray – are suitable, and people often wear suits. In smaller cities the dress code may be more casual, but this usually depends on the type of work, more than the region.
If you are coming to Canada from a warmer climate, then there are two items of clothing that you'll usually need – a warm business coat, and a durable pair of warm, waterproof boots. You'll need these for the snow, and for the slush that comes afterwards.
Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories. Employment laws, including the number of hours that people work, are set by each province or territory. Labor laws specific to each province and territory also govern things like break times, overtime pay, and vacation periods.
Canada's constitution outlines obligations and expectations concerning non-discriminatory behavior in the workplace. However, there can be many big differences in the conditions of employment between the various legislative bodies. So research your local employment laws before you start your new role.
For example, the provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick set a maximum 44-hour week, and Nova Scotia sets a 48-hour week. Working these hours may be quite a shock if you're coming from Europe, where most people work 35-40 hours a week. However, flexible working and family-friendly work hours are reasonably common, so you should be able to negotiate a schedule that works for your lifestyle.
You also need to be aware of Canada's strict requirements and specific conditions for terminating and firing employees. For instance, people can't be dismissed unless they're given a clear warning and a chance to improve, and employers must give employees a termination notice of one to eight weeks. (The length of time varies, depending on how long the person has been with the organization.)
For more information about employment laws in Canada, see the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website.
Most Canadians receive two weeks of paid vacation every year. Again, if you're coming from a country or organization with four or more weeks of standard vacation, this could be a shock.
In addition to regular vacations, there are also five statutory holidays that all Canadians observe:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Good Friday – March 29; Friday before Easter Sunday (Quebec observes Easter Monday instead).
- Canada Day – July 1.
- Labour Day – September 2; First Monday of September.
- Christmas Day – Dec 25.
The various provinces and territories also have designated statutory holidays, the most common of these are:
- Victoria Day – 20 May; Monday preceding May 25.
- Civic Holiday – August 5; First Monday in August.
- Thanksgiving Day – October 14; Second Monday in October.
- Remembrance Day – November 11.
- Boxing Day – December 26.
It's best to double-check the regulations in your province to determine which holidays you're entitled to.
Many Canadians are individualistic in outlook. When managing Canadian team members, be sure to listen to their ideas and show that you value their contributions.
Hard work, reliability, and teamwork are all highly valued in the Canadian work culture. Stay with your team if they're working on a key project or task. If, for example, you leave early when other people are working late, you could damage their trust in you, and you might even hurt your chances for a promotion. Be willing to help, and to work alongside your team, when the situation is appropriate.
It's also important to show that you're willing to work hard. If you tend to avoid certain tasks or projects, you'll lose the respect of your team.
Socializing during work hours is often viewed negatively. Talking socially in the hallway is acceptable, but keep the time to a minimum. Canadians have a strong work ethic; when you're at work, you should be working. Of course, socializing guidelines can vary with different corporate cultures.
A good rule to follow is to be professional and friendly. Work hard and be open with your team, and you'll gain their respect and friendship.
More Tips for Managing in Canada
Here are a few additional guidelines:
- Don't take yourself too seriously – Canadians sometimes have an unfounded reputation for being humorless, when in fact they enjoy being lighthearted, and use humor to release stress. Remember to have fun with your team, and enjoy getting to know your people.
- Give small gifts – Modest gifts (such as gift cards, luxury pens, chocolates, and gift baskets) are sometimes given to celebrate the closing of a deal, project, or negotiation. (If you give gifts, make sure that you give them after the work is complete - otherwise they could be seen as a bribe, or as an incentive to get work done.)
- Don't compare Canadians with Americans – Canadians are proud that they have a culture and history that is separate and distinct from their American neighbors.
- Use a strong handshake – When meeting someone new, give a firm handshake with good eye contact. Canadians expect this. If you're a man meeting a woman for the first time, allow her to extend her hand first.
- Be on time – Punctuality is important. In the French province of Quebec, appointment times may be a bit more relaxed. As a rule, however, you should always be on time for meetings.
- Be careful with body language – Body language and personal space differ widely between the English and French provinces. In the English provinces, hand gestures are kept to a minimum and personal space is closely observed. In the French provinces, gestures are used more often and are more expressive. People stand closer together, and they often kiss both cheeks while shaking hands.
- Take time to appreciate your surroundings – Canada is a breathtakingly beautiful country with majestic mountains, serene lakes, and tranquil prairie plains. Canadians take great pride in the natural beauty of their country. So get outside and explore!
Working in Canada is similar to many other Western countries, but there are some key differences. Make sure you carefully research the specific laws, climate, and customs of the province in which you'll be working or managing.
Canadians value teamwork. If you want to manage your new team successfully, make sure that you're ready and willing to help when they need it. Avoiding tasks or leaving early is viewed negatively, and may damage your credibility.
Remember that Canada is an incredibly diverse country. So be flexible, and use the right approach for your particular situation.