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What Surprised Me About Working in Canada

04 November 2018 by National Bank
Travailler au Canada

Newcomers face a host of challenges – not the least of which is navigating a work world that may well be very different from the one they left. We asked three new Canadians to share what surprised them most about working in Canada – and some of their insights might surprise you, too.


Career opportunities

“I worked in a restaurant for seven or eight months when I arrived,” says Sarah Balderas, who came to Canada from France in 2010. “Once my English was good enough I quit, and two days later landed a job in sales, my field. In France, this is unlikely to happen. Canadian employers are open-minded and ready to give a chance to whoever is motivated and ready to work hard. Isn’t Canada amazing?”

“I was surprised by how common it is to talk about career growth and future opportunities when you’re interviewing for an entry-level position,” says Claudia Barrios, who arrived from El Salvador in 2013. “There is a culture in Canada that enables and encourages young professionals to aspire to great things, even when they’re applying for an entry-level position.”

“In France,” Sarah continues, “if you are not happy and do not succeed, your boss says, ‘Ten others are lining up to take your position’. Here in Canada, the boss will sit with you and make sure you are happy; and if you’re not, they will try to help. You clearly see you are valued and that they are thankful to have you in their company.”

Office culture

“No tea!” exclaims Quin Parker, who arrived from the UK in 2009. “This isn’t just about the lack of brown liquid in a stout mug. In Canada, trips to the office kitchen to brew coffee are solitary affairs. When you start a new job in the UK, you have about half a day to acquaint yourself with everybody’s preferences for making tea, because tea is made in rounds and it’s going to be your turn. Leave the bag in for Mike; Kelley likes extra milk and only drinks out of her Mickey Mouse mug; and whatever you do, don’t forget Alison’s stevia. In Canada, there’s no such pressure. It hasn’t stopped feeling strange.”

“Letting employees leave as early as 2:30 pm on Fridays to enjoy the summer was an unexpected treat,” Claudia marvels. “I love this work-life balance philosophy.”

“I’ve been in all kinds of workplaces in London,” Quin explains, “and almost always found them filled with people who looked exactly like me – white and Northern European. Here, I’m guaranteed to walk into an office and half of the team will be visible minorities – at every level. At one organization I worked for, all the senior managers in one meeting were born outside the country. I couldn’t imagine that happening in the UK.”

“I work at a company where 75 percent of top management are women,” Claudia enthuses. “I’ve never seen this before. Ever. Calling the shots, doing the numbers, writing the policy, setting out company goals; side by side with other talented men. It’s fantastic!”

Canadian conscience

“The first time I was invited for an after-work drink with colleagues,” Quin says, “everybody packed up after a maximum of two drinks. I thought it was something I said. In the UK there’s a good deal of social pressure to stay thirsty and stay out, until closing time and possibly after, and even outside of Friday nights.”

“What surprised me,” says Sarah, “is how people are ‘politically correct’. Everyone is very careful about what they say. In France, we just say whatever is on our mind, no matter what. So I had to adjust.”

A happy change of scenery

When you decide to immigrate, you’re venturing into the unknown. It’s all good and well to read books and watch movies about the country you’re moving to, but it’s only by setting foot on the ground that you really understand it (sometimes this results in the occasional misunderstanding or maybe a tremendous discovery). With a bit of luck, when all is said and done, it becomes a happy change of scenery.

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