Career Development/Canada Workplace Culture
- 1 Canada / Vancouver Workplace Cultural Differences: A Reader (2006 Edition)
- 2 Canadian Cultural Norms
- 3 Employability Skills
- 4 Activities / Exercises
Canada / Vancouver Workplace Cultural Differences: A Reader (2006 Edition)
Cultural Differences in the Work Place
A significant barrier facing many Newcomers is adapting to the new culture. Cultures are the customs, practices, mindset, and the social norms of a particular society or group of people.
They are more or less the way in which “the locals” interact with one another. To outsiders those norms, practices, or mindset might be foreign or strange, however, to the locals they make sense.
Cultural awareness can help you to survive and thrive in a new culture. The same can be said of new workplace cultures. Do not underestimate the influence culture has upon the way in which we see the world.
Tips for Cultural Analysis & Observation
- Watch the way people interact with one another in public places
- Read the local newspaper
- Read local authors
- Watch locally and nationally broadcasted programs
- Listen to radio stations
- Go to public events
The term, culture shock, was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place. We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin. Often, the way that we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone and so forth. The symptoms of cultural shock can appear at different times. Although, one can experience real pain from culture shock; it is also an opportunity for redefining one's life objectives. It is a great opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity and growth.
- Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
- Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
- Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
- Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused
- Lack of confidence
- Preoccupation with health
- Aches, pains, and allergies
- Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
- Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
- Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country
- Loss of identity
- Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
- Unable to solve simple problems
- Developing stereotypes about the new culture
- Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
- Longing for family
Stages of Culture Shock
Culture shock has many stages. Each stage can be ongoing or appear only at certain times.
The first stage is the incubation stage. In this first stage, the new arrival may feel euphoric and be pleased by all of the new things encountered. This time is called the "honeymoon" stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.
Stage II: Afterwards, the second stage presents itself. A person may encounter some difficult times and crises in daily life. For example, communication difficulties may occur such as not being understood. In this stage, there may be feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feeling incompetent. This happens when a person is trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different from the culture of origin. Transition between the old ways and those of the new country is a difficult process and takes time to complete. During the transition, there can be strong feelings of dissatisfaction.
Stage III: The third stage is characterized by gaining some understanding of the new culture. A new feeling of pleasure and sense of humour may be experienced. One may start to feel a certain psychological balance. The new arrival may not feel as lost and starts to have a feeling of direction. The individual is more familiar with the environment and wants to belong. This initiates an evaluation of the old ways versus those of the new. Stage IV: In the fourth stage, the person realizes that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This stage can be one of double integration or triple integration depending on the number of cultures that the person has to process. This integration is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging. The person starts to define him/herself and establish goals for living.
Stage V: The fifth stage is the stage that is called the "re-entry shock." This occurs when one returns to his/her country of origin. One may find that things are no longer the same. For example, some of the newly acquired customs are not in use in the old culture. These stages are present at different times and each person has their own way of reacting in the stages of culture shock. As a consequence, some stages will be longer and more difficult than others. Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock.
For example, the individual's state of mental health, type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education. How to Fight Culture Shock
The majority of individuals and families that immigrate from other countries have the ability to positively confront the obstacles of a new environment. Some ways to combat stress produced by culture shock are:
- Develop a hobby.
- Don't forget the good things you already have!
- Remember, there are always resources that you can use.
- Be patient, the act of immigrating is a process of adaptation to new situations. It will take time.
- Learn to be constructive. If you encounter an unfavourable environment, don't put yourself in that position again. Be easy on yourself.
- Don't try too hard.
- Learn to include a regular form of physical activity in your routine. This will help combat the sadness and loneliness in a constructive manner. Exercise, swim, takes a yoga class, etc.
- Relaxation and meditation are proven to be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress.
- Maintain contact with your ethnic group. This will give you a feeling of belonging and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
- Maintain contact with the new culture. Learn the language. Volunteer in community activities that allow you to practice the language that you are learning. This will help you feel less stress about language and useful at the same time.
- Allow yourself to feel sad about the things that you have left behind: your family, your friends, etc.
- Recognize the sorrow of leaving your old country. Accept the new country. Focus your power on getting through the transition.
- Pay attention to relationships with your family and at work. They will serve as support for you in difficult times.
- Establish simple goals and evaluate your progress.
- Find ways to live with the things that don't satisfy you 100%.
- Maintain confidence in yourself. Follow your ambitions and continue your plans for the future.
- If you feel stressed, look for help. There is always someone or some service available to help you. You may want to check out local professionals who help you to deal with your emotions and issues.
Canadian Cultural Norms
Canadian culture is a product of Liberal Western Values and Humanist ideals, meaning that the society that has emerged as a Western Social Democracy with a strong emphasis on Human Rights.
On the continuum of Western democracies Canada is somewhere in the middle between societies that value rugged individualism, or “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” like the US, and the Socialist democracies of Northern Europe. The Canadian motto is “Peace, Order, and Good Government”.
Canadians see government as a force for good in their lives and peaceful co-existence of different cultures as an ideal state of being. Canadian society is a Mosaic, rather than a melting pot.
The policies of the Canadian government encourage multiculturalism and tolerance. A newcomer to Canada is not expected to assimilate into the Canadian culture; rather they will be encouraged to integrate into life in Canada.
In Canada, a person's authority is related to his or her position and responsibility. Generally speaking, women occupy the same range of positions as men and have the same kinds of authority. People do not have authority just because of their name, status, social class or sex. It is a good idea to treat all persons with courtesy and respect.
Interacting with a Police Officer
Police Officers are trained to serve and protect the public - including you. If you need help, do not hesitate to contact them. Police Officers will normally treat you in a formal, impersonal manner. They may be either men or women.
The following guidelines will help you if you are ever questioned by the police.
- Address the policeman or policewoman as "officer".
- Accept the police officer's authority.
- Be ready to show identification.
- Communicate as clearly and directly as possible.
- In Canada, looking directly at another person's eyes when you are speaking to them is considered a sign of confidence and respect.
- Never try to give money to a police officer to ignore something you may have done that is against the law. Canadians do not bribe police officers - it is a serious crime.
Canadians accept a wide range of social behaviour, but most people expect politeness. Many Newcomers find Canadians to be excessively polite. This could be the case for a number of different reasons including the reserved British influences in the culture, or the simple fact that Canada is one of the ethnically diverse societies in the world and it functions because social norms dictate that individuals treat each other politely and with respect. In business, men and women usually shake hands on meeting for the first time.
Adults meeting each other in public may shake hands if they do not meet often. Shaking hands is also common for first meetings in social situations, and in a business situation is considered good manners. Some men and women may embrace and kiss lightly when meeting, if they are related or good friends.
The French and European influences in the society are evident within the society. In informal settings, such as a party or bar, most young people will simply exchange greetings such as "Hi!" or "How are you?"
Visiting someone without an invitation is not common - and sometimes not welcome. The social norms in urban settings are that you don’t visit another person unless you are invited to their home. In the case of dear friends and family this may not be the case.
Politeness is often interpreted as friendliness by Newcomers. (This is not always the case.)
In public, people are often polite to one another, their interaction might even seem genial and warm. However, this may have nothing to do with the quality of the relationship, but rather the expected norms of the way people treat each other in public.
Being polite in social situations does not mean you have to accept everything that is offered or proposed. It is acceptable to say "No, thank you." However, if you do want something, say "Thank you," and accept it the first time you are offered.
Standards and Expectations
Some of Canada's standards for public behaviour may be different from those in your home country. Some of our attitudes and customs may be more conservative than you are used to, while others may seem more liberal. Smoking is not permitted in federal buildings, the workplace, in elevators, on Canadian airlines, buses and other public transportation.
Smoking is also not allowed in banks, shops, restaurants and other public places. Most of these anti-smoking measures are firmly enforced. Smoking has become less tolerated in Canadian culture.
Important Social Standards
- Social practices - not laws - govern many types of behaviour. Some traditions are well established and politely but firmly enforced.
- Littering streets and public areas is not accepted.
- Spitting is generally not acceptable in most situations.
- Lining up or queuing. People normally line up or queue according to the principle of first-come, first-served. Others will strongly resent it if you push ahead them in line.
- Smoking. The majority of Canadians do not smoke. In private homes, you should always ask permission from your host or hostess to smoke, don’t be surprised if your host or hostess gives you an ashtray and shows you to the garden or balcony out doors.
- Being on time. You should always arrive on time at school, or for any meetings and appointments. For social invitations, people expect that you will arrive within 15 minutes to half an hour of the stated time. (Conversely, if you are going to be late or can’t make the meeting, you MUST let your host know as soon as possible.)
- Meeting Professionals. When you need to see a lawyer, doctor, counsellor, or other professionals usually you will need to book an appointment. If you show up at a professional’s office without an appointment, don’t be surprised if you are told to book an appointment for a future date.
Modesty and Discretion
Some activities are normally accepted in public if they are done with modesty, discretion and consideration for others. To determine what is appropriate you should consider where you are and who there is.
Kissing or holding hands in public
Showing modest affection in public offends few people in Canada. However, passionate kissing or touching are considered impolite and offensive. In large urban centres, it is not unusual to see same sex couples being affectionate. Canada is liberal in terms of gay rights. Also, in Canadian cities you will see many couples of mixed races.
Tips are usually given to waiters, taxi drivers, hairdressers, hotel attendants and, occasionally, bar staff. It is considered normal to tip between 10% and 15% of the bill before GST.
Activity / Exercise (for reflection) - optional
Answer the following questions regarding your observations of Canadian culture and Canadian work place culture.
- What are the differences between Canadian culture and your country of origin, i.e. how people handle conflict, make appointments, what time people show up for organized events and work, communication style, etc?
- How does your culture shock experience affect your search for work?
- What things can you do to deal with the stresses of culture shock?
- List any thoughts and experience that come to mind regarding your search for work, and how these thoughts and experiences affected you both positively and negatively.
Here are the skills that employers really want in their employees. (There applies to day-to-day living too!) Source: The Conference Board of Canada – www.conferenceboard.ca
2004 Biennial Skills And Attributes Survey Report – Business Council of BC[[Image:]] (55k)
- What Are BC Employers Looking For? The Business Council's 2004 Biennial Survey sets out to identify the most important Skills and Attributes companies are seeking in new job applicants.
- Senior human resources personnel from core member organizations participated in the 2004 Biennial Survey representing views of both large and medium sized companies across the province.
- Press Release (53K) [[Image:]]
Employability Skills Profile
These are the critical skills required by Canadian employers:
- Academic Skills
- Personal Management Skills
- Teamwork Skills
Those Skills which provide the basic foundation to get, keep and progress on a job and to achieve the best results. Canadian employers need a person who can:
| * understand and speak the languages in which business is conducted
|| * think critically and act logically to evaluate situations, solve problems and make decisions
|| * continue to learn for life
| * self-esteem and confidence
|| * the ability to set goals and priorities in work and personal life
|| * engage in continuous and lifelong learning.
Those skills needed to work with others on a job and to achieve the best results. Canadian employers need a person who can:
| * work with others
| * Understand and contribute to the organization’s goals
|| * A positive attitude toward change
|| * The ability to set goals and priorities in work and personal life.
The Innovation Skills Profile isolates the unique contribution that an individual's skills, attitudes, and behaviours make to an organization's innovation performance by focusing on creativity and continuous improvement skills, risk taking skills, relationship building skills, and implementation skills.
The Innovation Skills Profile is designed for employers and employees. It is relevant to all organizations–regardless of size, function, or sector. The Innovation Skills Profile can also be applied beyond the workplace by educators and students. Innovation Skills Profile PDF (requires Adobe Reader – available from www.adobe.com)
Useful Web Links
Skills that (BC) Employers Want (Survey results)
- Communication Skills
- speak, read, write, listen (hear what is said)
- use appropriate body language
- includes team work and interpersonal skills
- Good Work Ethic
- includes meeting high performance standards
- Flexible & Adaptable
- vital in today’s changing workplace
- Analyzing, Evaluating & Problem-Solving
- are you a problem solver?
- Positive Attitude
- give support and constructive feedback
- Accepts Responsibility
- accepts responsibility for assigned work and actions
- Technology Skills
- ability to use technology (i.e. computers)
- Leadership & Management Skills
- Honest & Reliable
- loyal, trustworthy and behaves ethically
- Willingness to Keep on Learning
- life-long learning
- Creative / Innovative
- Ethical Behaviour
- Professional & Mature Behaviour
- A basic foundation in math, science, and language skills is still critical in virtually every occupation.
- To deal with more complex and abstract tasks, employers demand higher education and skill levels in new employees, whether they have graduated from high school, vocational school, college or university.
- Basic computer literacy (word processing, manipulating data using spreadsheet or database program and access information from networks) is essential.
- An entrepreneurial personality is essential in the new job market. Forecasts show that much job growth will be in self-employment, contract work and work in small companies.
For today’s economy, new employees require a balance of broad transferable skills along with fob specific skills.
Survey Results (by Sector)
What are British Columbia employers looking for in,,,
| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
|| * good work ethic
| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
| * good work ethic
|| * communication skills
|| * communication skills
| * communication skills
10 Workplace Survival Skills
| # Language/Communication style
||What is the communication style of the local culture? Are people direct or indirect with one another? Do they say what they think or they likely not to, because they are afraid of offending each other?|
| # Body language
||What differences have you observed regarding body language? Have you encountered situations where people’s body language was hard to read? Do they seem friendly or aggressive to you?|
| # Dress
|| What have you noticed about the way people dress for work? Is it more or less formal than you are used to?
| # Use of personal space
||What distances have you notice in terms of the space people keep between them?|
| # Making and keeping appointment times
|| What have you noticed? Do people in the new culture have a different sense of time?
| # Gender Relations
|| What are your observation regarding the way men and women relate to one another? Do you see men and women as having clearly defined roles in the new culture, or are they less defined than in your country of origin?
| # Privacy.
||What are you observations? Are people more private or less private than in your country of origin? How do you think this plays out in the work environment?|
| # Interpersonal Style.
||How do you see people relating to each other out in public? Are they more reserved or more forthright than your country of origin?|
| # Dealing with Conflict
|| What have you noticed about the new culture? Do people on the street engage in conflict, or are they likely to avoid it? What are your first impressions?
| # Team Work
|| What have you noticed about the new culture? Do you think that this culture is a culture of individuals, or a culture of cooperation? What are your first impressions regarding team work in the new culture?
Tips for Dealing with Cultural Differences
The culture we grow up in determines how we express ourselves and how we relate to others people. Our culture defines who we see as ‘us’ and who we see as ‘them’. (From Alberta Career Development and Employment)
Setting aside cultural biases is not easy – it takes time and determination. Here are some tips:
- Treat all of the people you work with as individuals. Try to look beyond the cultural background and see the person.
- Avoid making generalizations about a whole group based on one or two members. Just because one member of a group is sloppy, it does not mean all members of the group are sloppy.
- Try to be open to new information about a culture or group of people. We tend to warp or ignore information that does not agree with what we think we already know.
- Don’t assume because a person is good or bad at one thing that s/he is good or bad at other things (i.e., don’t assume that someone who speaks English poorly also does other things poorly.)
- Don’t play favourites or treat others unfairly. It is normal to feel a little uncomfortable when you are dealing with someone from another culture – but don’t let your discomfort cause you to treat that person differently from the way you treat others.
- Notice the economic and social dividing lines in your workplace and community. If you are on the privileged side of the line, be sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who are not.
- Turn fear into curiosity. We are often taught to be suspicious of other groups. Ask yourself, “What if we could get beyond our differences? What would I learn?”
- Use acceptable terms for cultural groups. Find out which terms are acceptable to a cultural group and which are not. Speak up if others use terms that are unacceptable to you, and let them know what you would like your group to be called.
- Respect personal names. Call people by the name they want to be called. Learn the correct way to pronounce it, the correct order to say it, and the appropriate titles of respect. Don’t use slang names like ‘dear’ and Mac’.
- Laugh with people, not at them. Don’t tell ethnic or sexual jokes ever. If you are offended by jokes told by someone else, tell the person later in private.
- Recognize the ‘insult game’. Using teasing insults to show affection is a game sometimes played by men, but often misunderstood by women and some cultural groups. If you experience this, immediately let the other person know that this is not comfortable for you, and that you would appreciate it if they did not do it again. This is a boundary issue – your boundaries.
- Avoid making judgements based on the accent, timing or pace of someone’s speech. Different ways of speaking may strike you as too haughty or too subservient, or even insulting. Try to view the person objectively, even if the accent seems so romantic!
- Expect to have to explain cultural unwritten rules. People from cultures other than yours will not be able to ‘read between the lines’. Explain cultural expectations – even if it makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
- Find out how disagreements are handled in the other person’s culture. Ti may be considered unacceptable to say ‘No’ directly, or ‘No’ may simply mean that further negotiation is expected. Avoid public displays of anger.
- Pay attention to gestures. Be careful about the gestures you use and how they might be interpreted. If you are puzzled by someone else’s gesture, ask questions. Tell people if they are using inappropriate gestures, but do so in a way that does not make them ‘lose face’.
- Be aware that different cultures view time differently. If you can’t adopt the other person’s sense of time, negotiate something that will work for you both.
- Adjust your interpersonal ‘space’ requirements, if necessary. People in different cultures may feel very uncomfortable if you stand too close or too far away from them (by their standards). Notice how closely they stand after they approach you. Pay attention to how they react if you move closer.
- Be very careful about touching in any way. Watch what other people do, especially when they are people of other cultures. Usually people do unto other what they will accept from others – except where power and authority are concerned.
- Your additions, experiences…
High Context & Low Context Cultures
| * Messages are covert and implicit
|| * Messages are overt and explicit
| * Messages are internalized, they are part of the culture, there is a shared sense of meaning
|| * Messages are plainly coded, there may not be a shared sense of meaning
| * Much non-verbal coding
|| * Detailed verbalization
| * Reactions reserved
|| * Reactions on the surface
| * Distinct in-group and out-group
|| * Flexible in-group and out-group
| * Strong interpersonal bonds
|| * Fragile interpersonal bonds
| * High commitment to others
|| * Low commitment to others
| * Time open and flexible
|| * Time highly organized
Different cultures have different behaviour regarding time:
| * Do one thing at a time
|| * Do many things at once
| * Take time commitments very seriously
|| * Consider time commitment an objective to be achieved, if possible
| * Concentrate on the job
|| * Are highly distracted and subject to interruptions
| * Are committed to the job
|| * Are committed to people and human relationships
| * Adhere to plans
|| * Change plans often and easily
| * Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration
|| * Are more concerned about those who are closely related
| * Show great deal of respect for private property; seldom borrow or lend
|| * Borrow things often and easily
| * Are accustom to short term relationships
|| * Have a strong tendency to build lifelong relationships
Vancouver Users Guide - http://www.vancouveruserguide.com/
Activities / Exercises
Seven (7) Cultural Components
These 7 Cultural Components provide a foundation for any given ‘culture’.
Activity / Exercise: Choose any three (3) Cultural Components below, and describe the differences between Your Home Country & Canada. Use an example. (You may use bullet points).
| Ideas, Beliefs
Do Canadians have different customs than you do? What are the most visible differences and customs?
| History (experience)
| Government / Institutions / Authority
| Interpersonal Communications
- Is it important to show up early for an appointment?
- Is it acceptable to complain to others?
- Is it acceptable to refer to, or talk about your problems?
- Is it important to express your feelings, or be direct?
- Is it appropriate to wear cologne or perfume to a job interview?
- True or False? It’s not what you know but who you know…?
From Business Council Of British Columbia – www.bcbc.com