Keeping a Job in Style. Learn from Canada.

by Rachel Yeomans | September 6th, 2009   

There are times we fall under the grave misconception that when we land a job we can kick up our heels, get comfortable and wait for the money to flow in without exerting too much effort on our part. A lesson in maintaining your recently-acquired (or even for those who have been comfortable in your position for some time) job, let’s take a lesson from the Canadians. Read on from a new weekly series published on GlobalPost.com. Please note, some of the suggestions below are more suitable for those who reside and work in Canada–however most of them can be applied to any working situation.

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Canadian Flag on Parliament Hill

Welcome to the “How To… Find A Job In Canada” series!

Saying that last year wasn’t great economically speaking is an understatement. Pretty much all countries worldwide suffered from the global economic downturn and Canada was no exception. Yet, a lot of people are still considering moving to Canada, while others are already in the process and are probably worried about whether they will get a job at all.

There is no easy answer when it comes to employment. You know the story… a bit of patience, a bit of skills, a bit of luck.

I’m not a job counselor, and I’m not an expert. But I do know how it works in Canada and I’m hoping to pass along some information that may not be obvious to everyone. A post will be published every Saturday… enjoy!

Being comfortable in your workplace greatly impacts how successful you are at work. Here are 10 tips on workplace etiquette in Canada:

Dress code: in general, small businesses are less strict about business attire when compared to larger corporate environments. Some sectors are traditionally more conservative, for example banking, accounting and law. Generally speaking, the following clothes are not appropriate for work: beach sandals and sneakers, sports clothes (i.e sweatpants), graphic tee shirts, ripped clothing, spaghetti tank tops.

Tip: most workplace have “casual Fridays”, which means that every Friday, employees are allowed to wear more casual dress, such as jeans and tee shirts.

Greeting people: the notion of hierarchy is less important in Canada than it is in most countries. Remember the lesson: everyone is part of the company and should be treated the same. Always treat the receptionist, administrative assistant, cleaners etc. the same way you treat the top executive.

Tip: most workplace try to remove barrier by going on a first name basis.

Respect people: Canadian society is extremely diverse and chances are, you co-workers will be too. Be prepared to work with people from different backgrounds, different religions. In a professional setting, all differences should be put aside anyway.

Tip: even if English and French are Canada’s official languages, prepare to be patient with people (clients, customers, co-workers) who have varying abilities in these two languages.

Big no-no’s: drinking alcohol at work, for example during an informal business meal, can be very frowned upon. Similarly, smoking in the office is of course forbidden. As a matter of fact, smoking outside anywhere near a door may be forbidden too.

Tip: some workplace are “scent-free”, due to recent health concerns arising from scented products. Apparently, perfumes and other strong scents (shampoo, deodorant, suncream etc.) have been reported to trigger symptoms in people with asthma and people with environmental sensitivities.

French and English: Canada is officially bilingual, Quebec’s official language is French, New Brunswick is bilingual and the National Capital Region is trying to be. Discussions on French-English relations are best avoided at work and one should try to respect everyone’s preferred official language.

Tip: even if you don’t speak French/ English, try to initiate the conversation in that language, or just learn a few words. For example: “excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais ?“.

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Time: Canadian are pretty punctual and meeting start on time. Notice people if you are late, or cancel altogether if you know you won’t make it.

Tip: Canada’s notorious winter weather can occasionally account for being late. When there is a big snow storm or other severe weather conditions, it is understandable to be late… once in a while. That said, you should always learn how to prepare for such weather and arrange your travel plans accordingly.

Getting involved: Canadians value work and socializing in the workplace is not uncommon. For example, pot-lucks are popular around Christmas time, as well as participating in various charity events or challenges (such as fundraising).

Tip: while you may not be able to attend all events, participating once in a while is recommended. Not only it will help you fit in, but it’s also a great way to network and meet new people.

Introductions: they include one’s title if appropriate, or Mr., Ms, Mrs. and the full name. When co-workers or others higher in the hierarchy want to be addressed on a first name basis, they will usually say it (”Just call me John“). It’s actually pretty common to address people by their first name, including supervisors… and in French, most people will use “tu” instead of “vous“, except with CEOs and clients.

Tip: if you are not sure how to pronounce a first or last name, just say so, and the person will tell you! I usually do well with French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese last names etc. but I must admit I’m clueless when it comes to Indian or Vietnamese names.

Political correctness: love it or hate it, chances are you will get familiar with political-correctness (PC) at work. This include using proper terminology when referring to ethnic groups, avoiding telling jokes that key off sexual or racial stereotypes etc. Be careful, people are sensitive to this.

Tip: some workplace promote the use of gender-neutral terms whenever possible. For example, “chairperson” or simply “chair” in place of “chairman.”

Discussing problems: Canadians are quite straightforward and most consider that the best way to solve a problem is to discuss it. A lot of supervisors or managers have an “open door” policy and you are welcome to express yourself.

Tip: remember to ask people beforehand if they are available to discuss an issue. You may want to send an email and set a time to make sure you are coming at a right time.

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Check for GlobalPost.com’s next section of the series, posted every Saturday.

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