Professionalism in the Workplace

How to Conduct Yourself on the Job

Designers working together on a project
A true professional is willing to help his or her co-workers when they are overburdened. Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Professionalism is defined as an individual's conduct at work. In spite of the word's root, this quality is not restricted to what we describe as "the professions," which are typically careers that require a lot of education and have high earnings associated with them. Many cashiers, maintenance workers, and waitresses can demonstrate a high level of this trait, although these occupations require minimal training and employees have modest earnings.

An equal number of doctors, lawyers, and engineers—often called professionals—can display very little.

You may wonder if anyone will even notice if you don't demonstrate professional behavior at work. As long as you do your job well, who cares? It turns out your boss, customers, and co-workers do. They will notice if you lack this quality and it could have severe consequences for your career. To discount the importance of professionalism would be a big mistake. It can affect your chances for advancement or even the ability to keep your job.

How can you show your professionalism? Follow these dos and don'ts:

Make It a Priority to Be on Time

When you arrive late for work or meetings, it gives your boss and co-workers the impression you don't care about your job and, if it affects them, it's like saying you don't value their time. Pay attention to the clock. Set alarms if you have to. Show up at least a few minutes before you are supposed to start work and return from your breaks on time.

Don't Be a Grump

Leave your bad mood at the door when you come to work. We all have days when we aren't feeling our best. Remember not to take it out on your boss, your co-workers, and especially your customers. If work is the thing that is causing your bad mood, it may be time to think about quitting your job.

If that isn't a good option for you right now, find a way to make the best of the situation until it is.

Dress Appropriately

Whether you have to dress up for work or you can wear more casual clothes, your appearance should always be neat and clean. A wrinkled suit looks no better than a ripped pair of jeans does.

Choose the type of clothing your employer requires. If there isn't a dress code, pick attire that is the norm for your place of employment.  Save flip-flops, shorts, and tank tops for the weekends, along with clothes that are better suited for a night out at a club.

Watch Your Mouth

Swearing, cursing, or cussing—whatever you call it—has no place in most workplaces. Unless you know it is okay in yours, refrain from using foul language, particularly if those who you might offend are present. Here's a good rule of thumb to follow: If you wouldn't say it to your grandmother, don't say it at work.

Offer Assistance to Your Colleagues

A true professional is willing to help his or her co-workers when they are overburdened or facing a challenge at work. He or she isn't afraid to share knowledge, opinions, or simply an extra pair of hands. One person's success reflects well on everyone in his or her workplace.

It is important not to be too pushy, however. If your colleague rejects your offer, don't push it. He or she may prefer to work alone.

Don't Gossip

While you may be tempted to tell your cubicle neighbors what you heard about Suzy or Sam down in accounting, gossiping makes you look like a middle school student. If you know something you simply must share, tell someone who has nothing to do with your workplace, like your sister, mother, or best friend.

Try to Stay Positive

Negativity is contagious. If you complain incessantly about your workplace, it will bring others down. Your boss certainly will not appreciate a drop in morale among his or her employees. That does not mean you shouldn't speak up about things you think are wrong. If you see something that should be fixed, give your boss feedback along with a plan for how to make improvements.

If you are just complaining for no reason, stop.

Don't Hide From Your Mistakes

As hard as it may be to do, own your mistakes and then do your best to correct them. Make sure you don't make the same one twice. Never blame others for your errors, even if they deserve it. Instead, set an example so that those who share responsibility for the mistake can step forward and admit their part.

Always Fight Fair

You will inevitably have occasional disagreements with your co-workers or even your boss. You may think that something should be done one way while someone else will believe another way is better. Don't let yourself get angry. It doesn't matter how upset you are or how strongly you believe you are right, screaming in the workplace isn't allowed, nor is name calling or door slamming. Calmly explain your opinion and be ready to walk away if you cannot sway the other person or if he or she begins to lose control. Of course, you should always avoid physical contact.

Don't Lie

Dishonesty always makes you look bad, whether it's lying on your resume or calling in sick when you aren't. A true professional is always upfront. If you are unqualified for a job, you have two choices. Don't apply for it at all or submit an application that reflects your real skills. If you choose the second option, explain how your other strengths compensate for the missing requirement. As for lying about being sick, if you need a day off, take a personal or vacation day.

Don't Air Your Dirty Laundry

While confiding in a close friend at work is usually okay, sharing too much information with the entire office is not. Be judicious about whom you talk to, particularly when it comes to discussing problems you are having with your spouse or other family members. If you do decide to share something personal with your co-workers, don't do it where customers and clients might overhear you.

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