Honesty is the Best Policy When It Comes to Supporting New Canadians In the Workplace


Over the last 4 years I have worked directly with New Canadian students coordinating work placements for them to gain the experience that they need to forge ahead in their professional lives.  As a consultant, I am in a unique position where  not only do I hear from immigrants about their workplace experiences, I also hear from employers about some of the challenges that they are facing working with a different demographic.

There are many situations that have come up over the years that were sensitive ones, that I had to address with New Canadians because I wanted them to succeed in their work life.  Sometimes I had to let them know that their clothing was too provocative for a Canadian workplace, I had to gently tell them to work on their intonation because they sounded like they were delivering a death telegram, or I explained to them the adage that “time is money” in Canada means if you are late for work it usually means you are going to get into trouble.  I have always prefaced my conversations with New Canadians to let them know that  although what I may tell them may sound too direct, I am giving them this advice because I want to see them succeed.  In the four years that I have worked with New Canadians to help them find work placements, I have to say that no one has ever minded when I told them the truth because my intentions were good.

So often I have heard sad stories from New Canadians who are let go and do not know why.  They are usually terminated because of a lack of soft skills, by not following the social conventions of the workplace.   Along the way, many people would have seen these behaviours, but probably decided to leave them alone for fear of offending them.  Instead , co-workers will talk behind their back, which is disrespectful instead of dealing with it up front.  The cost of not addressing issues with New Canadians because of fear of offending them can be damaging not only to them but for the company as well.  Honest feedback  gives New Canadians an opportunity to improve which can lead to pay increases and promotions in the future.  I have often noticed how organizations that are “too polite” and not open with their New Canadians, never seem to promote them.  They will tell their employees that their English is good, but then they stay in the same entry-level position for 10 or more years.  Instead, an employer that addresses issues of fluency by giving the employee an opportunity to improve, in my opinion is far more supportive and equitable  than one who leaves it alone.  The first employer is not recognizing the potential of the employee where the latter one does and is willing to support he or she to achieve workplace success.

For New Canadians who are entering into our work force for the first time, it is important to keep an open mind that is receptive to feedback.  You may want to suggest to a co-worker or a supervisor that you trust to let you know when you are not handling a situation the way they normally do in your workplace.    Let them know that you are sincerely open and that  you want to be successful in your work and that you need their advice.  When you let someone know this, you are giving them permission to guide you.  Many Canadians are very worried about offending others so they may avoid giving feedback.

Conversely, co-workers and supervisors should address any issues that arise with a New Canadian right at the beginning to give them a chance to improve and to let them know how you would like them to handle different situations.  When you say for instance ” I am telling you this because I want you to be successful in your job ….” they are more likely to take your advice.  It shows that you see their  success as part of your responsibility.

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