What is Canadian etiquette at work?

Every workplace has its own culture. Canadian workplaces may be different than what you are used to. The easiest way to figure out what that culture is, is to observe and ask.

Below are some of the things you need to be aware of at the interview and on the job.

The Interview

First Impressions

Your first impression in the interview involves your smile, handshake, clothes, personal space and scent. Many workplaces no longer want or allow employees to wear perfume or cologne because other people may have allergies or be sensitive to the smell. Generally, a daily shower is sufficient and welcome.

What to Wear

How you dress and present on the day of the interview can affect the outcome of your success getting that job. Canadian employers still expect candidates to dress properly to make a good first impression. Employers expect to see candidates follow three main goals when it comes to how they present, they expect a: clean, appropriate and neat appearance. 

You can find out more about how we dress for an interview and tips on what employers across Canada had to say in Diversity Canada's "What Employers Say" tip sheet.


Of course you want to have the best résumé possible and give a good impression in your interview. But using false information about your work experience and educational credentials may get you fired, viewed as untrustworthy, and will not improve your self-esteem even if you look a lot better on paper.

Table Manners

Some interviews occur over lunch. This is an opportunity for the interviewer to see you in another environment. It is not the best time for you to order the most expensive item or relax with a few drinks. If you aren't sure what to do, and watching others isn't possible, eat with confidence. However, do not try to correct the interviewer's eating habits! In Canada we wait until everyone is served before we begin eating.

Don't Receive Phone Calls

If you have forgotten to turn off your cell phone, turn it off when it rings and apologize. It is considered rude to answer a phone call when you are in an interview.

Which Chair Do I Sit On?

Normally you wait to be offered a chair when you come into the interview room. If this doesn't happen, ask where you should sit. Don't assume you know where they want you to sit. You might end up taking the boss' chair, which would be considered rude.

Answering Interview Questions

An interview is your opportunity to sell yourself. Not answering a specific question will not help you in the interview. Normally you will be given time to ask questions and/or add information that you think is relevant. Be sure to keep your answers focused and reasonably brief. Watch the interviewer's body language for clues on how you are doing.

Thank You For The Interview

It is expected that you send a short thank you note by mail or email after an interview. It is also a good way for you to add anything you forgot to say in the interview.

Phone Messages

It is a good idea to have a voicemail service on your phone so work or friends can leave you messages if you are unavailable. Your personal voicemail message should be clear and say nothing you would be embarrassed for your employer or grandmother to hear. When you leave a message for someone else, be sure to leave your phone number and name. Speak slowly enough that the recipient has time to write it down and has no excuse not to call you back!

E-mail Names

If your e-mail reflects your spirit and individuality but is not appropriate for everyone, it may be better to have 2 different e-mail addresses. Some email addresses are fine for your friends but not appropriate for work (e.g. [email protected]). A more standard email address with a variation of your name is appropriate for your résumé (e.g. [email protected]).

Eye contact

When you talk to someone, looking them in the eye is considered respectful. If you have difficulty with this, imagine an eye in the middle of their forehead and speak to that. People will not be able to tell the difference.

On the Job

Proper Introductions

It is expected that you will introduce the people you know to the people you are talking to. If your mind goes blank and you forget someone's name, apologize and ask to be reminded. It is important to know that someone's title is used with their last name only (e.g. Joan Smith is "Ms. Smith" and not “Ms. Joan”).


If you have an appointment to meet someone or a group of people and you are unable to go, don't assume that you won't be missed. It is polite to let the person/people know that you cannot be there, as soon as possible. Try to never be late for meetings, especially for interviews or your performance review.

Mind Your Own Business

Although it is usually best to be friendly with your co-workers, do not ask directly about sensitive topics, such as personal health matters or sexuality, unless they bring it up first. If a co-worker shares details that make you uncomfortable, change the subject.

Greeting Co-workers

When you see your co-workers for the first time in the day, you will want to offer a greeting (e.g. “Good morning!”). It is not necessary after that to greet them every time you see them, although in some cultures it would seem rude not to.

Dealing With Other Employees

It is best to maintain good relationships with employees at every level. If someone treats you badly you can assume they are having personal problems and forgive them. This is true the first time only. The second time you need to address the situation calmly, kindly but directly.

If the bad treatment continues, you might want to discuss it with a supervisor or human resource department, or learn more about workplace discrimination.

Dealing with the Boss

Bosses are generally treated a little more formally than others at your workplace. You may have to make appointments to discuss matters with your boss, while you can often drop by to speak to co-workers.


It is polite to be aware if there is someone behind you and hold open the door for them so it does not close before they can enter or exit.

Multicultural Dealings

If you believe you will be dealing with people from another culture who require a different set of manners, you might want to do some research on what is expected. The Internet makes this research very easy, and may help you manage awkward or unfamiliar situations.

Contributed by Susan Qadeer, a personal and career counsellor with decades of experience. Susan currently works with college students.

Last updated: June 14, 2022 4001130