Understanding the Behaviors that Showcase Workplace Professionalism

A group of professionals working together in a business meeting
GettyImages/Hinterhaus Productions

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as, "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”

Professionalism doesn’t just apply to occupations requiring advanced degrees, like doctors. Most people prefer to work in a professional environment and with professional coworkers. And consumers or customers always prefer to deal with individuals who display professionalism in their interactions.

 

Defining and Describing Workplace Professionalism:

What does it mean to demonstrate workplace professionalism? What does unprofessional workplace behavior look like?

While it may be hard to define in a simple sentence, we know it when we see it. And we certainly know it when it is missing from our interaction with someone. 

Professionalism is more than competence. Sure, true professionals are good at whatever they do and they take their jobs seriously. When we visit a doctor, hail a cab, go out to dinner, or hire an electrician we always appreciate engaging a a “pro”, who is well trained, has experience, and will deliver a great outcome. 

Professionalism goes beyond being good what you do. Competence is a minimum standard and the rest of what gives meaning to the idea of workplace professionalism is all about behavior. It’s not just what you know – it’s how you do your job, how you behave, and how you come across as you interact with others.

11 Characteristics that Showcase Workplace Professionalism:

In addition to competence, here are 11 characteristics that define and display workplace professionalism:

1.  Always keeping commitments. Professionals do what they say they are going to do and they don’t over promise. They are dependable, they keep their appointments, and they don’t have to be reminded over and over when something is due.

2. Using language properly. Those who display workplace professionalism do so in every aspect of their work, including how they talk. They choose their language carefully, minimize the use of slang and they definitely pass on the use of inappropriate language. 

3. Avoiding drama. It’s impossible to completely separate our work lives from our personal lives. We all, at some point in our lives, will be in and out of relationships, have children or parents to deal with, and experience the roller coaster ups and downs of life. Bringing too much drama into the workplace can cross the line and come across as unprofessional. For example, while it’s unfortunate to have gone through a bad divorce, your co-workers don’t need to learn about your challenges and disagreements directly or indirectly through your loud phone conversations. True professionalism includes maintaining an appropriate wall between our personal problems and our workplace lives. 

4. Ensuring a great appearance. True professionals strive to ensure their physical presentation works for them instead of against them. From wearing clean, environment appropriate clothing to ensuring impeccable personal grooming, there are no gaps in this individual's aesthetic appearance.

 

5. Always practicing ethical behavior. Displaying professionalism demands an unyielding commitment to doing the right thing. The best professionals are attuned to the ethical implications of their decisions and when faced with one of those gray-area issues (no clear right or wrong), the seek help. For more insight into this important issue, read Did You Bring Your Ethics to Work Today?

6. Never bullying. No one likes a bully and there's no room for this behavior whatsoever in the workplace. Sometimes bullying is veiled in odd attempts at humor, and you know it is wrong when the humor comes at someone else’s expense. See “How to Spot Workplace Bullying.”

7. Avoiding gossip and gossiping.  When we hear workplace gossip, it’s hard not to listen. Similar to bullying, when you hear a gossip talking about your co-worker, you can assume the gossip will be talking about you next as soon as you’re not around.

See “The Toxicity of Gossip” for more on the toxic effect of workplace gossip.

8. Displaying a positive attitude. People enjoy working with coworkers who are always upbeat, positive, and energetic. People who are excessively and constantly negative drain the positive energy from a workplace. Focus on ensuring your mood is in the right place every day when you walk through the door at work. 

9. Being accountable. Professionals admit it when they are wrong, own up to their mistakes, don’t point fingers at others, and don’t make lame excuses. They display accountability and expect accountability from others. 

10. Controlling emotions. Is it okay to show emotions at work? Of course, but professionals don’t lose their tempers, don’t lose their composure, and stay cool under pressure. See

“Anger: What It Is, What It Can Do, and How to Manage It”

11. Avoiding dirty jokes and sexual innuendo. If it’s something that would earn an R-rating for a movie, then it doesn’t belong in the workplace. Professionals don’t embarrass or harass their coworkers in any way, shape or form. Ever. 

The Bottom Line:

The most valuable asset in your career is your reputation. Those who understand this fact of life do everything in their power to always display professionalism in every encounter. There are no compromises and most of the time we never get a second chance to correct a bad impression. 

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Updated by Art Petty