Emily Levin

Managing A Cross-Cultural Team: Canada

by Emily Levin
October 2019

When it comes to business culture, there are many similarities among English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Canada. However, it would be a serious mistake to believe they are the same.

You might be forgiven for confusing team members from the United States and Canada, in particular. The two countries share similar accents, draw from similar pop culture influences, and very often trade employees across their borders. Likewise, many North American companies tend to approach both management and marketing to both groups as monolithic. However, Canadians are fiercely protective of their culture, and they will be the first to point out to you the many differences between their approach and that of their neighbors to the south. Your team members from those countries may seem superficially similar, but there are important differences in how they communicate and work that every manager should understand.

The second largest country in the world, Canada covers a land mass of 3,854,083 square miles—organized in ten provinces that stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In population, Canada ranks 39th, with a population of 37 million people, largely clustered in cities along the southern border of the country.

While the unemployment rate in Canada is low (5.7%), it is not as low as its neighbors in North America, where both the U.S. and Mexico have unemployment rates of 3.7%. Nonetheless, employee turnover in Canada is still relatively low. As of 2018, about 15.17 million people aged 15 years and older were employed full-time in Canada—a number that has been steadily on the rise from 12 million in 2000. In part, this is due to steady immigration.

Employee engagement in Canada is surprisingly good, with Canadians reporting much higher job satisfaction and engagement levels than global averages. According to recent studies, two-thirds of Canadians say they are happy at work, and approximately one quarter say they love their jobs so much they would work for free.

This high engagement may be partially attributable to Canadian businesses’ attitudes toward risk and change. Canadian companies have a high tolerance for risk, believing that change and hard work will bring positive reward. Canadian workers also value the growing shift toward flatter, more egalitarian reporting structures, and away from traditional hierarchical organizational charts.

In terms of personal style, Canadians prefer a direct style of communication that has similarities to workers in the U.S. Overall, however, they are more mild-mannered, more tactful, more reserved, more conflict-averse, and less emotional than U.S. workers.

Dress code, for the most part, is also informal and relaxed. In larger cities and some industries, conservative suits or dresses might be worn, but in more rural areas and on the west coast, business casual or completely casual attire is common. Do take weather into account, though! Winters in Canada can be frigid.

Canada: By the Numbers

  • Population: 37 million
  • Time Zone: Eastern, Central, and Pacific Standard time
  • Language: English and French
  • Currency: Canadian dollar (CAD)
  • Office Hours: Typical working hours in Canada are 8:00 or 9:00am to 5:00 or 6:00pm
  • Appointments: Make an appointment and be on time
  • Scheduling: Schedule appointments during business hours and in the office

Management Style

Canadians take management seriously, but not in the way you might think. Unlike some cultures, Canadian companies are moving to flatter structures where bosses aren’t distant decision-makers but play a hands-on role in the lives of employees. As strong believers in team culture, your Canadian team members will be looking to their manager to coach and mentor them, and to provide expertise to guide the group to success. Leaders, in turn, will expect employees to engage in open dialogue and knowledge-sharing among team members.

What will your Canadian employees be expecting from you as a manager? Here are a few qualities they’ll be looking for:

  • Inclusive: Managers should be prepared to tackle big decision-making, but Canadian employees, even entry-level team members, expect to be part of discussions that might affect them. This includes decision-making. Canadian work culture agrees that good ideas can come from anywhere.
  • Prepared: Your Canadian team members will expect you to come prepared for meetings, so if you have points to make, be sure to bring proof to back them up. You should also be prepared to make decisions only when all the facts are at hand. Canadians are decisive and direct, but don’t appreciate snap decisions made with little evidence. They prefer decisions that are based on empirical facts rather than on gut feelings.
  • Calm: Most Canadians value a low-drama workplace, and expect their managers to handle and resolve conflict in a way that minimizes disruptions and maintains group cohesiveness. Even in Québec, where the culture is more expressive, it is unusual for Canadian employees to become overtly aggressive or emotional. Being courteous and polite is highly valued everywhere, and there is an expectation that one can make a point with a minimum of shouting or wild gestures. If a meeting is becoming heated or confrontational, Canadians will expect their managers to calm things down—not add fuel to the fire.
  • Egalitarian: Canadians put a very high premium on teamwork that spans all levels of the organization. Though some companies are still hierarchical, the trend is toward flatter organizations where people work collaboratively with leadership. A boss who is draconian, authoritative, or a ‘know-it-all’ will be seen as difficult, arrogant, and inflexible. As a result, employees will steer clear. Managers who ‘pull rank’ on employees and assert themselves based on position won’t win any favors with their Canadian employees. Be confident and clear but polish up those listening skills. A boss who is approachable, collaborative, and shows humility will be highly valued by Canadian teams.
  • Intersectional: Like many international teams, Canada is a cultural mosaic, with many immigrants across the country. Your Canadian team members will instinctively grasp the notion of intersectionality of race, class, and gender. Canada encourages immigrants to retain their ethnic heritage, and business cultures are structured to respect employees’ heritage, and managers are expected to model intercultural adaptability and respect for diversity.
  • Team-oriented: Teamwork is an important value in Canadian workplaces and extends from the bottom to the top of the organization. While workers are included on teams for their expertise and skill set, the team as a whole is open to new ideas and is eager for management that cooperatively shares strategy and decision-making.

What To Expect from Your Canadian Employees

What should you expect from your team members in Canada? Here are some common attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs you might encounter:

  • Polite but reserved: Canadians are unfailingly polite, but they will often begin work relationships in a more reserved way than you will expect. Generally speaking, Canadians appreciate your politeness and will expect people to show respect, tolerance, and good manners.
  • Business first: While meetings may begin with a minimal amount of small talk, don’t expect your Canadian employees (outside Québec) to chit chat and build relationships. They are likely to want to get down to business rapidly.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say: Canadians are more apt to communicate verbally than to use non-verbal expressions to convey their meaning. Gestures may be used to add emphasis, but by and large, you can expect Canadians to mean exactly what they say.
  • OU’s and Z’s: Canadians use a combination of British and American spelling and usage rules, which can be confusing. Expect them to spell words like color and honor with a “u” (colour and honour) and to reverse the “e” in words like theater and center (theatre and centre). However, Canadians will employ z’s rather than British s’s in words like organization and realize. Your Canadian employees might also ask to be excused to use the “washroom” instead of the American “restroom/bathroom” or the British “toilet.”
  • Fairness and equality: With their diverse society and workplaces, Canadian workplaces put a high value on tolerance, egalitarianism, and respect. Your team members from Canada will expect to present their ideas, have them heard, and be a part of the decision-making process.
  • Win-win: Canadians are more comfortable with outcomes in which everyone comes out a winner and will work with other team members to try to attain them.
  • Relaxed approach: Canadian workers tend to take a much more reserved and low-key approach to communications—particularly in the west—but don’t mistake their excessive tact for lack of passion. They may take an understated, diplomatic approach, but they may care deeply about the outcomes and be disappointed if they aren’t taken seriously (their approach is not as reserved as you might see in the UK, however).
  • Even-tempered: Canadians rarely exhibit aggressive behavior, so you will not often see them shouting or getting emotional in your office. Workers from Québec, or those who are part of immigrant communities, may come from a tradition that is more expressive.
  • Meaningful meetings: Meetings in Canada tend to be substantive and stick to agreed-upon agendas. People come on time and everyone expects to have a say. If your meetings tend to be haphazard, off-the-cuff, or autocratic, you may get pushback from your Canadian team members.

 

For a more thorough overview of hiring employees in Canada, please visit our Globalpedia.

Looking for more advice on finding, hiring, and managing your global team? Globalization Partners can help.

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Emily Levin

Emily Levin

Communications Manager, Globalization Partners

Emily Levin joined Globalization Partners in July 2018 as Communications Manager. Emily has extensive experience in external and internal communications, content creation, and social media management.