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 occupations we describe as "professions," typically those that require a lot of education and have high earnings.

Cashiers, maintenance workers, and waitresses, who don't usually make a lot of money and don't need college degrees, can demonstrate a high level of this trait, just like doctors, lawyers or engineers can display a low level of it, and vice versa.

As with good health, the absence of professionalism is usually more noticeable than its presence. Who will detect whether you have this quality or not? Your boss and customers and coworkers will, and it can affect your ability to keep your job and advance in your career. So what can you do to make sure you exhibit professionalism or, at least, not show a lack of it? Follow these dos and don'ts:

Make Being on Time a Priority

Showing up late for work or meetings gives the impression that you don't care about your job, so make sure you pay attention to the clock. Not only does this go for start times, but this tip also applies to returning from your lunch break.

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 you to be grumpy, it may be time to think about quitting your job.

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

Dress Appropriately

Your workplace attire may or may not include wearing a suit and tie. 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.

Wear the type of clothing your employer requires or that is the norm for your place of employment. Generally speaking, revealing or tight clothing is a no-no. You should save flip-flops, shorts, and tank tops for the weekends.

Watch Your Mouth

Swearing, cursing or cussing—whatever you call it—has no place at work, particularly if those who you might offend are present. If you wouldn't say it to your grandmother, refrain from saying it at work. 

Offer To Help Your Colleagues

A true professional is willing to help his or her coworkers when they are overburdened. 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.

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 that 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 at work brings everyone down. Your boss certainly will not appreciate a drop in morale among his or her employees. Instead, if you think something can be improved, find a way to make that happen.

Don't Hide From Your Mistakes

As hard as it may be to do, take ownership of your mistakes and do your best to correct them. Make sure you don't make the same one twice. Never blame others, but set an example so that those who share responsibility for the mistake can step forward and admit it.

Always Fight Fair

You will inevitably have 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. No matter how upset you are or how strongly you think you are right, screaming isn't allowed, nor is name calling or door slamming.

It should go without saying, also, that you should always avoid physical attacks, no matter what. 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.

Don't Lie

Dishonesty never makes anyone look good, whether it's lying on one's resume or calling in sick when you aren't. A true professional is always upfront. If you aren't qualified for the job, either don't apply for it or send in your application despite this and explain why you'd be perfect for the job regardless of the one skill or attribute you are lacking. 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 personal information with your coworkers, don't do it where customers and clients can overhear you.

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