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Working in Canada – The Good Sides of the Work Culture

Ottawa, December 2012
Ottawa, December 2012

Even though I chose to return to freelancing, I did enjoy being an employee in Canada. I got to know the work culture, and workplaces have a number of positive sides I enjoyed.

Quick hiring processes

Unlike in France (and in most of the Old World) where the recruitment process can be an impossibly long and tedious affair, getting hired in Canada is surprisingly straightforward. It is not a myth: you can be interviewed one day and start the next. That’s what happened to me in 2005 when I dropped off resumes and cover letters in language schools around Ottawa. By the time I got home that day, one of the language schools had already called me back for an interview that took place the following day. And I started working right away even though I had very little teaching experience.

Canadian employers tend to be practical: they want any vacancy filled as fast as possible and if you look like a good fit, you can be hired on the spot just because you were at the right place at the right time.

Note that this is mostly true for the private sector—the recruitment process for government positions is much more complicated and codified. In Ottawa, it can take years to land a permanent position in the federal government!

Privacy laws HR must respect

In Canada, employers expect your resume to highlight your educational and professional backgrounds, as well as relevant skills. Unlike in Europe, they do not expect you to volunteer personal details such as your age, marital status, number of children, religious preference, political affiliation and social security number. In fact, it’s illegal for employers to ask for information that has no bearing on the position applied for.

If a question is not a bona fide occupational requirement (e.g., related to the duties, skills or functions of a specific position), it should not be asked. Candidates can file a claim for discrimination if they believe they were subject to inappropriate questioning.

The Employment Equity Act ensures that employers provide equal opportunities to the four designated groups: women; Aboriginal peoples; persons with disabilities; and members of visible minorities.

Oh, and in Canada—unlike in France—you do not have to submit a handwritten cover letter. Handwriting analysis is considered BS in the New World… phew!

Experience as important as education

Canadian employers value work and life experience, and unless you are a recent grad with an empty resume, your academic accomplishments don’t matter that much overall. A lot of positions specify “completion of high school,” “university degree in XXXX” along with these magic words “or in a closely related field.” Indeed, relevant and related-field experience may substitute for the required education.

For instance, I worked as a French teacher even though I don’t have a teaching degree, and I am a translator without an English-to-French translation degree—however, I do have a university degree in language studies and years of relevant professional experience.

French employers are extremely strict when it comes to educational background, and often ask for your degree to be a perfect match to the position requirements. My mother, who has been working as a tutor for years and has references, is still being asked for copies of her high school and university diplomas!

Fairly informal workplaces

Granted, I have very limited work experience in France, but I do find that workplaces are much more casual and relaxed on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

For instance, while hierarchies are often still the favoured form of organizing, most “big bosses” do interact with employees and they generally do not take themselves too seriously. I do find they are less “paternalist” than in France for instance.

The English language also helps make the workplace fairly informal. There is no “tu” or “vous” dilemma, and everyone is generally on a first-name basis.

Social activities such as potlucks, holiday parties, employee appreciation days, etc., make coming to work a bit easier, and “casual Fridays” are a great way to end the work week.

The 9-to-5 office schedule

Most office employees work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a short thirty-minute lunch break. Sure, if you are busy you will probably end up eating at your desk and some overtime can be expected, but you can usually enjoy your evening at home.

In France, lunch breaks are much longer—sometimes up to two hours long. As a result, office employees end their work day much later, often around 7 p.m. Add commuting time (especially in big cities like Paris) and you end up coming home around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., which is rather late!

I find the 9-to-5 schedule allows for a better life and work balance, something Canadian employers try to value and promote.

Work-from-home opportunities

These days, a lot of employers are open to the possibility to let employees work from home once in a while. In both of my last positions in the corporate world, it was perfectly acceptable to stay home to complete a project or tackle your daily workload—provided you did answer your emails and could be reached easily if needed.

A lot of people choose to work from home when they have a medical appointment scheduled during the day, or if they have a kid-related emergency. This way, you don’t have to take a full day off, you just let your employer know that you will be unavailable for a couple of hours during the regular workday but that you will catch up later.

Of course, not all jobs can be done from home. This is mostly true for office employees.

So these are a few “perks” of working in Canada. But it’s not all positive… stay tuned for the bad and ugly sides of employment on this side of the Atlantic Ocean!

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