Do you think like a Manager or an Employee?

Understand the difference to become a better leader today.

An employment counsellor once shared an incident with me, wherein her client was a newcomer to Canada and had been offered a well-paying job on a factory floor. The three-month probation performance review, which is standard in Canada, was perceived by him as a disciplinary process which was intended to make him lose face. So, he quit the job and informed this employment counsellor that he felt insulted for being made to look bad without reason and that he wouldn’t go back. On digging further, she understood that he wanted the employers to ask him back.

She went to the employers and explained the situation to them. They said that they would only ask him back if he was contrite. The newcomer didn’t know what the word contrite meant. Once he was told that it means feeling remorse for having caused inconvenience to the employers by walking off, he became even angrier. The employment counsellor didn’t know how to understand the situation – how much of it was cultural, how much could be trauma-related, and how much had to do with his personality? Was his wellness being taken care of? And how much of it was just not understanding expectations and performance measures?

Let’s understand the differences between each to equip you to be a better leader in a situation like this.


Culture is the sum of the norms and expectations established in any group. You can belong to many different groups and modify your behaviour as per the norms and expectations of each, given your awareness of the culture of that group. However, when you join a new group, the only way you discover its culture is by making mistakes. You will usually be made aware of the mistakes through the responses of the other members of the group – their attitude, their words or their behaviour. Every group has its culture – an ethnic group, a department, your locality, your family. The employee in question came from a group which did not have the same norms and expectations as the Canadian workplace did.


People who have experienced trauma, like being in a war-torn country, living in a refugee camp or experiencing harassment at the previous job, have developed volatile fight or flight responses to deal with those threatening situations. With a low threshold of tolerance, they are quick to produce a fight or flight response in similarly threatening situations. This employee showed the flight response by leaving the job when the danger of losing face was presented and showed the fight response when he was asked to apologize. However, patience is the only solution. It usually takes 6 months for their nervous systems to calm down, realizing that the situation isn’t dangerous. However, this healing cannot be rushed.

Case Study

A woman working in a women’s shelter became very upset about new women coming into the shelter and hoarding food. She confronted the director of the shelter, who didn’t seem to be affected by this. He explained to her that the women were used to situations where they didn’t know where their next meal would be coming from and had everything taken from them. Till they felt comfortable and realized that they were safe and had enough food, they would continue this behaviour. Sure enough, within three weeks of living at the shelter, the food hoarding stopped.


Temperament is the nature you are born with, while your personality is developed with education, experience, or effort. With your education, the experiences you’ve had in your life and the effort you have exerted into building certain aspects of your personality, you have reached where you are now. Your personality changes with time, as you learn and experience new things and devote efforts to yourself in different ways. However, your temperament remains the same. In the case of this employee, it was unclear if his reactions stemmed from his personality or if it was a cultural response. Only time would tell.

“It takes time to get used to what a person’s personality is, especially if the cultural differences are fairly large.” Click To Tweet


If an employee had a health issue or an addiction, it could prove to be problematic for the workplace. Observing employees, conducting health checks and having an open-door policy with Human Resources can help in uncovering such problems. A health issue or an addiction may take time to surface. However, you can maintain a checklist of indicators. Once you have noted a critical level of signs, the employee can be confronted, and you can work towards a resolution together.

Workplace Expectations

Workplace expectations differ across cultures. The easy way to find out about the culture of a new workplace is to ask questions. Canada is an information-based culture with information being provided first in a conversation. However, with employees from relationship-based cultures, a relationship needs to be established in a conversation before information can be provided, which will be filtered based on the degree of trust built. Being warm, friendly, interested and open-minded can help build a new relationship.

We tend to believe people who are like us in facial features, skin colour, speech, nationality or belief systems. The way to work through this tendency of humans is to orchestrate the triangulation of relationships. Introduce the new employee to someone from a culture different from your own. That person could belong to the same culture as the employee’s but should not belong to yours.

Having someone from a different culture in the conversation helps you earn the trust of the employee. Click To Tweet

To set expectations at work, instead of dumping information on newcomers, ask a set of questions which don’t sound derogatory. In this case, the employer could have asked the employee how long people go before they know they are going to keep a job in his country and then telling him about the three-month probation performance review and asking him how he felt about it. The employee may or may not know the answer, but you need to find a way of giving information about expectations in Canada by linking it to information they already have about the same in their country. Providing a context helps them remember the workplace expectations in Canada.


A newcomer to Canada may not be able to understand the performance expectations because they may be afraid to lose face by asking questions and will go to great lengths to hide their lack of knowledge. Information must be given to them in a way which is easy to receive as well as respectful to their intellect. When companies don’t take orientation and onboarding seriously, employees don’t know what to expect, what the company culture is, what counts as a mistake, and whom they can approach. They may receive incorrect advice from colleagues, assume what is right or avoid the situation entirely hoping they never have to perform that task. Inform your employees beforehand to prevent such situations.

Want to learn more about being a better leader? Shift Management is a go-to workplace learning center where you learn how to develop your own talents, how to develop the talents of your company, how to help newcomers integrate and how to improve your leadership. All of this is available through online learning and blended learning/coaching situations, assessments, and working together with companies to help achieve workplace goals.

About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!

Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:

Contact information:

780 993 1062