Cultural sensitivities in Canada

Given a newcomer’s religious and/or cultural background, some areas of the employment discussion may require particular sensitivity – cultural humility, really. This means openly discussing differences between our cultures, without any judgement or intention to convey that Canadian culture is somehow better.

Below are some of the topics to consider.

Body language, touching and personal space

To help newcomers succeed in job interviews and on the job, it is useful to have frank discussions about how certain postures and body language (for example, arms crossed, leaning back, and slouching) are perceived in Canada. As well, customs regarding handshakes and appropriate personal space should be explored to understand differences and prepare for how things work in Canada.

The concept of customer service

Some newcomers may not have experience working in jobs where “the customer is always right.” An exploration of the concept and expectations around customer service in Canadian workplaces can be helpful in setting expectations.

Along the same lines, the concept of going above-and-beyond or being pro-active may not be familiar for newcomers, if they had previously worked in environments where “no one complains” is acceptable, or “good is good enough” is the norm. It is worth explaining that employers in Canada value and look for employees who put in extra effort and show initiative and that these are important elements for long term employment success.

Working for women and with women

Newcomer families may have specific beliefs and concerns about women working. There may even be different opinions within the same family. Those helping the family with their employment journey should be open to revisiting this topic periodically and having an open dialogue about financial realities and Canadian cultural attitudes around women working.

For some men, the idea of working for, or under the supervision of, a woman may be unfamiliar and potentially concerning. This should be discussed and incorporated in the employment search.

Religious accommodation

Newcomers from different cultures and countries may have very different needs when it comes to religious accommodations.

Ontario employers are required to provide some religious accommodations for employees. The extent to which companies do this varies widely and this should be researched if it will be issue for the newcomer.

Also, the way in which members of various faith groups observe their religion at work can differ widely.  Once the newcomer’s desires and expectations with regard to religious accommodation at work have been discussed, those helping them can assist them in researching religious accommodations by sector or by employer. Another idea is to put newcomers in touch with individuals from their faith who have been working in Canada, to understand how they have managed religious accommodations.

See also, a separate article on this website, Muslim observances that may affect work.

Customs around eating at work

Some newcomers practice cultural and religious observances concerning food. This may impact their willingness to do certain types of jobs or work in certain types of environments.

As well, newcomers may have experienced different workplace practices when it comes to meals at work. In some Middle Eastern countries, for example, it may be common for the employer to provide food for employees at lunchtime. It should be explained that is not standard practice in Canada and that employees are responsible for bringing or purchasing their own meals when at work.

Not risking being offensive or impolite (e.g. asking questions)

In some cultures, it may be viewed as impolite to ask questions during job discussions or interviews. It can be helpful to explain that Canadian employers are open to questions and may, in fact, see them as indicative of a person’s interest in the job and the company.

Cultural attitudes around work and the workplace

It is important to explore newcomers’ experiences around topics such as punctuality, accountability, and work product/quality in the countries and environments where they may have worked. These may be different than what is expected in Canada and it is helpful to discuss this openly to avoid misunderstandings and help the newcomer succeed.

In this same vein, it is helpful to understand what the newcomers’ prior experience with performance evaluation may have been. To help set expectations, the concept of performance reviews, whether formal or informal and the elements that may be evaluated in employee performance should be explained.

Articles and videos on cultural sensitivities in Canada

The following articles may be of interest, in helping to explain Canadian customs and expectations:

Articles in English

Articles in Arabic

Videos in English, with Arabic subtitles