Adapting to a new culture: the Canadian Workplace – Feb 2020

We followed up with our February meeting on cultural assimilation after immigration as part of our second meeting in our monthly series in 2020.

When moving to a new country, we always bring with us our cultural baggage and so do many other people when they immigrate to Canada. Canada has an incredibly diverse population, thanks to its welcoming policies, citizens, and the environment. However, this cultural melange can sometimes cause misunderstandings in the workplace, which we have to be very mindful of.

Our February meeting saw enthusiastic participation, not only from our IWS members, but also our Canadian counterparts in science, including men. Our Vancouver chapter had a ~10-year-old young scientist participate in the discussion! We could not have been happier…!

Across various city nodes, we discussed major issues faced by immigrants in cultural adjustment in Canada. Based on the discussion, the key points impacting the international and local immigrants the most in Canada were identified as –

Communication and multiculturalism. Being in Canada implies immersion in a multicultural country. It is a boon but can also cause cultural struggles with communication at work and in inter-personal space. Take the differences in the greeting style, for instance, in the workplace or academic environments. Being the first step of any interpersonal interaction, the evident changes in the manner, frequency or the body language associated with it could set the tone of the meeting or trigger anxiety. Non-verbal communication issues are equally prevalent. 

Local dynamics and integration. While sharing their experiences about coming to Canada, participants across all the city nodes noted the feelings of isolation as a newly arrived immigrant. Several voices echoed that “While Canada is friendly, it is hard to make friends.” Moreover, it is not limited to just immigrants, as Canadians moving from other cities often feel the same way too. 

Cultural shock and anticipatory anxiety.Migrating to a country with different cultural heritage and practices often leads to anxiety following adjusting to the new culture. Cultural shock is a legitimate thing and often leads to poor integration in the workplace as well as society.

Lack of understanding of the Canadian market.  Not understanding the local labor market trends is another issue that can cause maladjustments at the wok place. For instance, data from British Columbia state that only 2% of private companies have over 50 employees, while 22% of people are self-employed in the private sector. In such a scenario, finding a new job matching your talents and expectations may prove disappointing if not enough research is done beforehand. 

So, what can you do to deal with these unbecoming circumstances? Some of the measures that could be taken are:

Be prepared. Do your homework before you arrive in the city. Should you learn their language? Should you get an idea of the local culture, cuisine, event activities, and regulations? The answer is evidently ‘Yes’. An important aspect of integration is to be able to inculcate as well as imbibe the cultural practice. Your new city might be able to offer you a lot if you are willing to accept it.

Know the Canadian labor market. Different policies and requirements may exist for the labor market at the provincial and federal levels. Knowing the local and federal labor market structure can not only help you integrate better into your current workplace, but also raise awareness regarding your rights privileges and future prospects as a student/worker. 

Connect. Cultural anxieties ease out when we interact with other people with similar experiences and the commonalities help us understand that we are not alone. Many Immigrants are unaware of the wonderful resources and platforms available to facilitate the process. These include, SCWIST, YWCA tech connect program, ISSofBC Career Pathways, IECBC, Mentor connect, MOSAIC and so on. Of course, IWS is always available to reach out. 

Observe communication patterns. In Canada, verbal communication comprises about 7% of the information being transmitted. 93% of the conversation is all about tone of voice and body language! And guess what? Both of those modes of communication are heavily influenced by our cultural backgrounds either way! So do not forget that communication is a two-way process!

Canadians tend to use a higher pitch to demonstrate some unwillingness to do something they were requested to, even though the answer may be “yes”. Oh! And the “small talk”. This is probably the most noticeable trait of Canadian communication. The small talk consists of very shallow conversation (often regarding the weather, or a simple “how was your weekend” starter) to break the ice and warm the interaction up before the deep conversation (the actual subject that was intended to be discussed). 

Read (or listen) between the lines. In Canada, it is very common to use “softeners” when conveying a difficult message. For example, instead of saying “this is wrong”, they may say “could we go over the facts again to check for errors?”, or instead of “I disagree”, they would say “I believe there might be another way we can look at this”. These softeners are a strategic move to help the other person deal with different opinions better and generate a healthy discussion. This goes along with the 4 pillars of Canadian communication: Clarity, Conciseness, Coherence, and Consensus. 

Cultural diversity in the workplace. While it is unrealistic to expect that any individual can fully understand all these underlying elements, every individual can learn to acknowledge that these cultural differences exist and to respect them. Companies are now facing cross-cultural challenges in how they recruit, manage and develop a multi-cultural working space.

The rule of thumb is: “do not make assumptions”. Canadian workplace culture is a compilation of not only the diverse cultural backgrounds but also the company’s culture, department routine, and people’s personalities. Therefore, it is always good to follow the general formula: “Observe -> Analyze -> Take Action -> Evaluate”.

In conclusion, the Canadian workplace culture is extremely diverse and dynamic. The best strategy is to observe and analyze how your co-workers interact with each other before making any conclusions about their relationship with you. Furthermore, it is important to take into account people’s cultural background, personality, and routine, because these are important factors that influence the workplace environment! Forgive yourself if you struggle. Support others if they do. Keep your sense of humor. Understand that communication is a two-way process!

Finally, know that you are not alone. IWS was founded with a mission to help each other grow by integrating the multi-cultural differences and turning them into our collective strength. Remember, we are #stronger together.

Equal Contributions from Giulia, Josseline, Nicole, Sweta, and Pooja Shree 


· Funny CBC How to be a Canadian

· Funny CBC 2 Canadian 2 Courteous



· Serious Video material for professional life tips

· ++ SFU multiple cultures feedback

· Basic professional

· Durham college Acculturation

· Pro per sector Engineer

· 101 Canada business etiquette

· Toronto tips

· Debunk cliché

· Workshop resources: