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Professionalism in the Workplace

What Does It Mean to Be a Professional?

I have taught ethics to college students in business and accounting for almost 30 years. I have used a character-based ethic to encourage students to be the best version of themselves. It works for the most part. However, the missing link is to teach them what it means to be a professional or “Professionalism”. It can be very important to college students and help them get their foot in the door when they interview for positions after graduating.

On a basic level, the way you appear and behave in an employment setting can send different messages to recruiters. Dress appropriately. Behave responsibly. If you are being interviewed for a job, show a genuine interest in the firm. Do some online research to learn more about the firm and strengthen your performance in an interview. Interviewers are impressed when future employees take the time to learn about the company and use the knowledge gained in the interview.

Workplace Professionalism

According to Glassdoor, an organization that claims to be the worldwide leader on insights about jobs and companies, professionalism encompasses the way you carry yourself, your attitude, and the way you communicate with others. These behaviors combine to show professionalism—or a lack there of. Workers who dress well, have integrity, and are calm, cool, and collected are generally considered professional, and display professionalism.

The University of Massachusetts Global identifies five ways to build workplace etiquette, an element of professionalism:

  1. Honor your commitments.
  2. Be attentive, responsive and proactive.
  3. Get to know the workplace culture.
  4. Keep personal matters to a minimum.
  5. Avoid the negative side of office politics.

Here is a quick summary of each of the five.

Accountability is critical in the workplace. Meet your commitments in a timely manner, including getting jobs done when they are due. Do not make excuses for your performance. Doing so sends a signal that you do not take personal responsibility for your actions and behaviors. Do not take credit for the work of others!

It is important to show an interest in what goes on in the office. Be responsive during meetings. Ask questions to show your interest. Take the lead to show you are proactive and can get a job done without constant oversight. It builds trust. Do not start conversations with a co-worker during a meeting or use your smart phone! Use professionalism

Workplace Culture

Workplace culture differs in organizations. It is important to learn about expectations for your appearance. Some firms have a dress code. Be sure to follow it. On a deeper level, be sure to understand the expectations of the leaders in the firm. What are the goals of the organization? To whom should you go to if a matter of concern arises? If it involves possible wrongdoing, be careful not to blow the whistle before speaking to higher-ups in the organization! Understand the firm’s policy on such matters.  

It is essential to understand the social media policies of the organization: Learn about when it is appropriate to use social media at work and for what reasons. Check whether the organization has a policy that addresses using social media for personal reasons. Generally, do not use company time to engage in personal activities online. Do not vent your personal feelings about others in the organization or the firm itself on social media!

Office politics typically are unavoidable because these days the workday can be 8-10 hours long or more, remote work notwithstanding. You are likely to hear some gossip in the workplace, sometimes referred to as water cooler talk. This is what happens when colleagues take a break from work and socialize with each other. It is best to check your personal feelings about others in the organization at home before going into the office. Store personal grudges away. Be careful about dating others in the organization. Those you might date could have oversight responsibility and evaluate your performance creating conflicts in your personal relationship. If the relationship goes south, there may be a claim of sexual harassment. Do not date your boss!

There are many other aspects to professionalism including modeling ethical behavior: be honest, trustworthy, respectful of others, for example. The one behavior that trumps all else is integrity. It means to have the courage of your convictions. It is to be a principled person. Most important, you should do what you say you will do and clearly explain why you may not have been able to meet an obligation in the workplace. Download

This famous quote by Alistair Cooke, a British writer and journalist, speaks to me personally regarding what it means to be a professional. There have been many days when I did not feel
like teaching because I was under the weather, tired, stressed out or otherwise distracted from my teaching responsibilities. Cooke’s quote comes to mind for me on such days. It helps to push myself through the day.

I hope my readers think about the importance of professionalism because it is a key element of job performance.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 3, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website  (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.