Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer
You might have heard the word professionalism thrown around in the workplace, but do you know what it means? And do you know how to maintain professionalism no matter the circumstances?
Whether you want to get ahead in your career or have a better relationship with your colleagues and clients, nailing professionalism can be a great way to create a more enjoyable workplace for yourself and those around you. Professionalism also helps navigate uncomfortable situations, like terminating an employee or rejecting candidates, with grace and empathy.
However, professionalism consists of many nuanced traits and behaviors. Depending on where you are in your career and the type of work you do, you may not be aware of these nuances. So, staying professional in all your business dealings can be easier said than done. Here we answer why professionalism is important and how you can become more professional in your daily business dealings.
What is Professionalism?
In its broadest sense, professionalism means upholding the highest standards of behavior in all your business interactions. This includes being respectful of others, committed to your work, and accountable for your actions. While professionalism sounds a bit vague, unprofessional behavior is hard to miss. Being late, impolite, or dishonest about our actions can make us difficult to work with.
Don’t forget that professional behavior’s hallmarks can vary per country. The Dutch anthropologist Geert Hofstede has extensively researched the cultural differences that translate into business world. For example, while Danes tend to be very direct and avoid small talk at meetings, this behavior may be perceived as rude by some Asian nations, where establishing rapport and friendship is essential. So, just like beauty, professionalism is also in the eye of the beholder.
The Signs of a True Professional
Cultural differences aside, there are some universally accepted signs of a true professional.
Like any first impression, our appearance is the first thing people notice. Whether you’re job hunting or meeting clients, dressing professionally significantly impacts how others perceive you. Wearing neutral colors and a well-tailored suit is always a safe option. Also, don’t forget that clothes aren’t the only thing that creates your look. Pay attention to how you come across overall, including tidy hair, shaved face, and well-kept nails.
Integrity plays a big part in being a true professional. Do people trust that you’ll do what you said you’d do? Are your actions and decisions guided by principles like honesty, trust, and reliability? All of these contribute to building a reputation as a true professional.
Calm Under Stress
Whatever your line of work, stress will be inevitable. However, part of being professional means navigating stressful situations with calmness. Rather than becoming flustered or frustrated, aim to see the bigger picture. From there, you can take deliberate action.
Empathy is crucial for understanding others and responding appropriately to differing situations. Developing emotional intelligence allows you to tune into those around you. Knowing their motivations and motivators, you can better establish a professional working rapport.
Why is Professionalism So Important?
Employers may not explicitly put “professionalism” in the job ad, but it is expected in every workplace across the country. Here are some reasons why.
It Gets You the Job
Let’s start with the basics. You won’t get far in your interviewing process if you appear unprofessional. Being punctual, eloquent, and attentive are just a few visible characteristics of professionalism.
It Gets You Promoted
Getting a job is one thing, but being consistent will put you in a great position to be promoted. But the key here is consistency. You can’t be polite, punctual, and considerate one day, then unreliable the next. Your boss and colleagues want to know they can trust you.
It Helps You Foster Great Relationships
Creating stable professional relationships is just as meaningful as your skill development. People who perceive you as trustworthy and reliable are far more likely to respect you and want to be around you. So, being professional means making people feel comfortable. This opens the doors to learning more about your colleagues, clients, and superiors.
How Employee Professionalism Affects the Workplace Positively
Maintaining professionalism across all levels of the organization massively impacts how well the business is doing. Here’s why.
It Increases Productivity
Imagine a business where gossip thrives. Instead of doing work, people sit around and talk about others. Not only is this super unprofessional, but it’s also directly eating away at the organization’s bottom line. However, a professional workforce that prioritizes working diligently will minimize distractions and increase productivity.
It Creates a Healthy Corporate Culture
Corporate culture matters. In fact, data by Revelio Labs found that toxic corporate culture is the number one reason people quit their jobs in 2021. When employees are professional, they create a culture of mutual respect, trust, and reliability. Colleagues can count on one another to get help and aren’t afraid to ask questions or speak openly when they disagree. These factors can reduce workplace stress and help nurture a healthy corporate culture.
It Sets the Business Up for Success
Few things matter as much as employee professionalism when building a successful business. Imagine this. A tech company is constructing unique products using cutting-edge technology, only to disappoint their clients with rude customer service. Prioritizing professionalism at all levels pushes the whole organization forward.
How Can You Be More Professional?
It can be challenging to know what professional behavior looks like until you experience a professional working environment. Does showing up super early for an interview constitute professionalism, or could that backfire? Where is the boundary between being professional and letting people run over you?
If you’re at the beginning of your career or want to brush up on your skills, here are a few ways to learn how to be more professional.
Observe People You Admire
Are there thought leaders in your industry whom you admire? Perhaps a prominent corporation CEO or a solopreneur with a million followers on LinkedIn? Watch videos with them and see how they behave. How do they talk? What do they do when someone else is speaking? How do they navigate uncomfortable situations? Since these people are at the top of the game, watching them work is almost like taking the shortcut to professionalism.
Read Up on Manners and Corporate Communications
Etiquette is one aspect of professionalism that many people should become more familiar with. Say you’re invited to a gala dinner. Consider small details, such as
- the silverware placement on the table
- how to sit at the table while the keynote speaker speaks
- navigating conversations
All of these things can help you behave appropriately regardless of the circumstances.
Be More Observant of Yourself
Once you’ve observed your role models and read how to communicate in different circumstances, think about the areas where your professionalism is lacking. Are you, perhaps, polite at the surface, but you don’t keep your work? Or, do you catch yourself cutting corners and delivering sub-par work just because you wanted to leave early on a Friday?
Having this awareness of yourself helps you better visualize the distance between where you are and where you want to go. It can also help you put specific steps into place to get there.
Some traits of professionalism are simply part of being a decent human (like taking ownership of our actions and being honest). However, other aspects require some work to get them right. Learning to communicate with different people, being organized, and delivering quality work requires skill. Being proactive about honing these skills can help you build a reputation as a reliable and trustworthy professional.