Module 04: On the Job Success

4.5 Professionalism – Etiquette

What to Wear 

Most workplaces have policies regarding dress code and professional appearance. It’s often a good idea to dress more formally and conservatively until you get a better sense of what co-workers wear. As you become more familiar with the environment, you can reflect a more individualized style that also conforms with workplace expectations.

Four cartoon versions of the same standing man appears with numbers 1, 2 , 3 and 4 appearing under each version. In each image he’s wearing something different:  t-shirt and pants; sunglasses, informal t-shirt, worn jeans and a sideways baseball cap; a blazer and black pants and a sweater and shorts.


Other points to consider:

  • Avoid flashy or revealing clothes that are considered distracting
  • If safety gear is required, make sure to follow the protocol
  • Don’t forget to maintain proper personal hygiene (i.e. take a shower, brush your hair and teeth, and polish your shoes etc)
  • Avoid wearing perfume or cologne as co-workers may be sensitive or allergic to scents

Body Language

Non-verbal communication, also known as body language, is integral to creating positive first (and subsequent) impressions in the workplace.

Some key aspects of non-verbal communication include:

Personal Space.  An individual’s cultural background can influence their comfort zone when it comes to personal space. Many people are most comfortable maintaining an arm’s length of space between each other when talking face to face.  In others cultures it’s acceptable to touch when greeting or talking.  Pay attention to cues from co-workers and be aware that standing too close can make the other person uncomfortable.  At the same time, standing too far away can give the impression that you aren’t interested in communicating.

Shaking Hands. In North American workplaces, people usually only touch to shake hands- but again there are exceptions related to culture, gender and sector etc. A firm handshake, along with eye contact and a smile, is expected when first meeting an employer or co-worker.

Eye Contact. When greeting or conducting a conversation, direct eye contact indicates that you’re engaged and alert. Avoiding eye contact may convey that a person is lacking in self-confidence or is unfriendly.   Staring or maintaining constant eye contact for long periods, however, is to be avoided.

Body positioning. Be aware of your body positioning:  crossed arms or fidgeting can give the impression of being bored or angry. Remain aware of facial expressions, for example, sometimes when we are focusing our facial expression could be read as angry. Adjust your body language to the situation and person and monitor the person you’re speaking to for cues.


Help Jane and Jose decide what they should wear for the occasions listed below:

  1. A meeting where clients of the organization will be attending (formal)
  2. A day in which there is a farewell party for a colleague who is leaving the company. No other meetings are planned (business casual).
  3. Casual Friday where some colleagues are meeting for lunch at a local restaurant (casual Friday). No other meetings or events with clients are planned that day.

Communicating at Work

Verbal communication is a complex and nuanced process. Communication styles are strongly influenced by culture, gender, age as well as individual factors. Most Canadian workplaces value direct, clear communication while at the same time also valuing a polite, indirect approach. It can be a difficult balance to maintain between being straightforward and being diplomatic.

As you prepare to communicate in the workplace, make sure that your language reflects who you are as an emerging professional. Communicating effectively can help you to fit in to a new workplace. The language you use and the attitude you convey when speaking provide co-workers with an important window into your priorities and way of thinking.

Two factors that will help build effective communication include:

Language proficiency. Having a good grasp of English- or whichever language you need to do your job- will help you complete the tasks more efficiently and communicate with clients and team members.  Feel free to refer to the Resources section for employment-related language training resources including Occupation-specific Language Training which is offered at no cost to newcomers.

Professional communication and etiquette. There is an expectation in all workplaces that you will adhere to basic communication practices from responding to emails within an accepted time window to maintaining confidentiality when it comes to sensitive information. In addition, developing an understanding of the regional language as well as industry or occupation-specific terms or jargon as well as enunciating clearly and using respectful language are all important aspects of effective communication.

Small Talk: “Talk at work is not confined to talk about work.”

Socializing and developing friendships are an integral part of workplace culture. Use small talk to connect with co-workers.

  • Be open to informal conversation with others e.g. Join your co-workers for coffee or lunch.
  • Some “small talk” or conversation is expected and shows you care about your colleagues. However, it’s typically considered impolite to ask directly about personal matters such as political affiliation, age and income. If a co-worker shares personal details then it’s up to you to set boundaries you’re comfortable with. If you feel uncomfortable, feel free to change the subject.
  • Become aware of cultural differences and do your best to educate yourself on a variety of perspectives- do your best not to judge others or assume the worst.
  • Socializing for a few minutes when you arrive at work or leave for the day, or over coffee or lunch breaks is acceptable. Engaging in long conversations during office hours is not.
  • Listening is an undervalued skill but is so essential to building rapport. Paying attention to the underlying emotion behind a comment and your own emotional response is an important awareness to develop.

Speaking Up

  • Participate actively in discussions and meetings. It’s OK to ask questions for clarification or offer your ideas. It shows that you’re interested and want to be actively involved. You may feel more comfortable asking clarifying questions until you have a better grasp and can offer your own suggestions later on.
  • If a particular discussion topic or project involves your area of your expertise and you think you may be able to offer a better solution, suggest it as tactfully and politely as possible. Remember, you’ve been hired for what you bring to the table.
  • Employers typically appreciate if you ask questions when you’re unsure about instructions or protocols, rather than stumbling ahead and potentially making an unnecessary mistake. Asking questions is one way to demonstrate to your team that you’re keen to learn and develop professionally.
  • Speak up immediately if you have concerns about a given task. You can refuse a task as long as you have a valid reason, such as that you think it’s unsafe.

Email Communication

Effective verbal and written communication are key to success in both finding and maintaining a job. Your emails should be written in a professional format and style. Be sure to only use your business email for company business and use your personal account for personal communications. Your business email and inbox contents are the property of your employer.

Guidelines when communicating in professional settings via email with employers or co-workers:

  • Make sure you have a clear subject line that is specific enough that the recipient can easily refer back to it later e.g. Follow up to Dec 15 meeting with Qui Zi
  • Begin your email with a proper salutation such as “Hi Ahmed” or “Dear Ahmed” and finish with, for example, “Thanks, Bob” or “Regards, Bob”
  • State the purpose of your email in the first couple of sentences
  • Be clear, concise and to the point
  • Do not use text language such as “u”- you, “r”- are, etc. This is not accepted as proper business communication
  • Use correct spelling and proper grammar, including punctuation and capitals
  • Use your spell checker and set the language to “Canadian English”
  • Use bullets and numbering to make it easier to read when including many points
  • DO NOT USE ALL CAPITALS – it implies that you are screaming at the recipient!
  • Use bold or italics to emphasize key words, phrases or actions
  • Read your message out loud before you hit the send button; proofread your message as you would a business letter. You may want to reach out to a trusted colleague for feedback or editing especially if the email is particularly important, although pay attention to any issues related to confidentiality


Example of a poorly written email message.

From: Prieto, Marcella
To: VXZ Technologies Full Staff List
Subject: No subject
Importance: Highcan someone give me the deadline details for the ABC project?Marcella Prieto

Electronic technologist


Here is a list of the problems with the email message above:

  • It’s being sent to the entire staff list when it would be more effective to send it only to those who can answer the question
  • As the question is aimed at ‘someone’, it is unclear who should be responding
  • There is no subject line so recipients won’t know what the email is about without opening it
  • She hasn’t capitalized the first letter of the sentence
  • The email comes across as rude because there is no salutation or appreciation of future efforts from her co-workers
  • She gives no timeframe for when she needs an answer by


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