Professionalism is the way an individual conducts themselves at work. Your attitude, words, and actions together present a picture of you. And if you think no one will notice whether you act professionally or not, think again. No matter what your job is—from waitress to lawyer and everything between—professionalism is a sign of an employee who cares. Your customers, clients, boss, and coworkers will recognize you as knowledgeable and hardworking. It also shows that you respect others and are responsible.
So what exactly does professionalism look like? Keep in mind that while most of this list is a general idea of professionalism, you need to take your workplace culture into consideration.
Maintaining Your Integrity
Being honest and having personal ethics are fundamental parts of being a good person. They are also key to professional behavior. If you promise something, follow through. Stand by your word. Do the right thing, even if no one is looking.
Behaving ethically includes treating your employer right. Don’t allow your private life to affect your work and don’t spend time at work on personal matters. It shouldn’t have to be said, but don’t steal from your company! That extends even to office supplies. While studies have shown between 75 and 100% of employees have stolen at least a pen from work, make sure you aren’t purposefullytaking supplies on the company dime.
Follow your company’s policies and guidelines and report any unethical behavior you witness. When in doubt, let your moral compass guide you to your human resources department. Remember, you can always ask for help if you don’t know how to handle a situation.
You know you’re good at what you do and you have the skills and knowledge to back it up. But you should always continue to develop new skills and polish existing skills, especially soft skills. Self-management, problem solving, time management, and interpersonal relationship skills are as important as the technical skills you need to perform in your job.
Always aim to exceed your employer’s expectations. Even if you fail, you will still be meeting their expectations!
Speaking of time management, it’s easy to acknowledge that wasting other people’s time is rude and disrespectful. In an office environment, this can translate in different ways. Make every effort not to be late to meetings or keep people waiting. Meet deadlines and due dates, even those you set yourself. If your colleagues or customers are counting on a deliverable at a specific date or time, do everything you can to deliver.
It’s said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yet your physical appearance is a major factor when people form their opinion of you. Whether you are starting out or have been in the workforce for 20 years, review your wardrobe. You don’t need to spend a ton of money, but your clothes should be clean, tidy (no wrinkles or rips), and work appropriate. Here are some helpful examples of a casual office dress code and a formal office dress code. Also, hair and nails should be neat and orderly.
It’s important to use appropriate language in all forms of professional communication. Not only in the words you use to express yourself, but also in your choice of topic and manner of delivery. Whether you are talking with a coworker in your own office or writing an email to a customer, you never know how they might react to what you say. Stay away from swearing, lewd comments or jokes, political humor, and any “touchy” subjects.
It’s also important for you to speak clearly and precisely. Try not to use “like,” “um,” or “uh” as these are filler and make you seem insecure or not confident in your abilities. Sharing your educated opinion shows your confidence and institutional knowledge.
And always be sure to proofread your emails!
Politeness and Positivity
Always aim to be polite to others and try to keep a positive outlook. Offer to help your colleagues if they need it. Shine the spotlight on others when they deserve it. Give credit where credit is due. And be a good listener—often when people are complaining or frustrated, they just want to be heard.
It feels great to vent to a colleague or friend when you’re having a bad day or something is reallybothering you. But a previous supervisor once told me, “only complain to someone who can do something about it.” I’ve found that to be helpful advice. Turning a complaint into a request for assistance will keep things professional and help you express your needs.
On the flip side, when someone confronts you, own up to your mistakes. It shows that you take responsibility for your actions and people will respect that.
If things get tense in any of these conversations, it’s best to walk away for a bit. It’s tough for anyone to keep a cool head in the heat of a confrontation. The best thing to do is to wait until you’re calmer, and then treat others the way you’d like to treated. (The good old Golden Rule!)