Professionalism in the Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 5, 2022 | Published May 17, 2021

Updated September 5, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Though professionalism may not be listed as an essential skill in many job descriptions, it is essential during an interview and when you start a job. It helps to build good relationships, avoid misunderstandings and communicate effectively. People who display professionalism often have more opportunities to advance their careers. In this article, we will discuss the definition of professionalism, why professionalism is so important, the traits of a professional and how to exhibit professionalism in different situations.

What is professionalism in the workplace?

Professionalism is a person's ability to focus on their work and make decisions that benefit their employers. The way you interact with others, conduct yourself and approach tasks all impact your professionalism. Professionalism measures how well you behave at work, how you handle stress and how you treat coworkers. Professional people can do their jobs well, follow company policies and avoid distractions such as conflicts with coworkers. A professional attitude and professional clothing can help you stand out during a job interview. Project professionalism by arriving early and giving detailed answers with examples.

After you start a job, being professional can help you earn the respect of coworkers and managers, making leadership positions easier. Professionalism also makes you more approachable. It lets people know that you'll consider new ideas and situations and respond rationally, keeping team morale high.

What are some of the characteristics of a professional person?

Here are some of the traits and habits often associated with professionalism and some ways to demonstrate those behaviours:

Reliability

Organizations are more effective and efficient when the people who work there can rely on each other. When you and your coworkers can trust each other to meet deadlines, respond to requests promptly, produce quality work, meet organizational goals and overcome challenges, your work feels more fun and fulfilling. For the best reliability, be prepared for unforeseen obstacles. Stay flexible and focused on your job. You can demonstrate your reliability by:

  • always responding promptly to requests or questions

  • arriving early for work, meetings and events

  • producing quality work

  • following company rules and procedures

  • giving your full attention to every task

  • avoiding distractions like social media while at work

Humility

Humility, or the ability to be humble, is essential for professionalism. People who exhibit humility are confident but not arrogant, and they recognize the value that other employees bring to their team. They can cooperate and work with others without thinking of themselves as more important than the rest of the group.

Employers usually recognize that someone possesses humility when they're respectful of their peers. They acknowledge other people for their hard work, and they don't boast about their personal accomplishments. They also consider how their decisions will impact the entire team, not just themselves. You can demonstrate humility by:

  • looking for ways to help others advance their careers

  • acknowledging mistakes

  • asking for assistance and advice when necessary

  • accepting criticism and changing your behaviour when needed

  • asking others about their thoughts and ideas

Related: How to Write an Apology Letter (With Examples)

Etiquette

Using proper etiquette means demonstrating good manners and treating other individuals with courtesy and respect. Business etiquette can vary between industries and employers, but it's usually better to be too formal than to risk offending a coworker. You can practise proper business etiquette by:

  • greeting new people with an elbow bump or a handshake

  • using full sentences and avoiding slang or emojis in written communications

  • putting your phone away during meetings and face-to-face conversations

  • greeting people by name

  • making eye contact with others when speaking

  • avoiding potentially controversial topics like religion or politics

Related: How To Have Difficult Conversations at Work

Neatness

Maintaining a professional appearance is important. Wear clean clothing that complies with your company's dress code, and maintain good hygiene. Keep your hair neatly styled, and make sure perfume or cologne is subtle and not overpowering. You can demonstrate neatness by keeping your work area organized as well.

Related: A Guide to Business Professional Attire (With Tips)

Organization

Organization is similar to neatness, but it extends beyond your physical workspace. Organized professionals can find files when they need them, manage their time and meet deadlines. They prepare for meetings and other tasks ahead of time, create schedules and to-do lists for themselves and others, and return items to the right locations after using them.

Related: 12 Examples of Organization in the Workplace (With Tips)

Thoughtfulness and empathy

Professional people are mindful of the thoughts, feelings and needs of others. They're kind and considerate, even in challenging situations. Delivering bad news or offering constructive criticism may go more smoothly when you're kind. Make an effort to help people who need it, ask others about their day and listen to people with different perspectives than your own.

Work ethic

Employers prefer professionals who are engaged in the workplace and devoted to their work. Be willing to help out with additional tasks to meet deadlines and produce quality work. Volunteer for new projects when possible, and maintain a positive attitude. Showing that you're loyal to your employer and willing to put in extra effort to meet their needs can advance your career.

Accountability

The most effective professionals hold themselves accountable when they make errors. They take responsibility for their actions and correct mistakes when needed.

Integrity

Holding yourself to a high moral standard is an important part of professionalism. Be honest, deliver on your promises and be respectful to the people around you. Avoid workplace gossip, maintain client confidentiality and follow company policies, even when no one is watching. Give credit to other team members for their accomplishments.

Related: What is Integrity? Definition and Examples

Expertise

You don't have to be an expert on everything, but being knowledgeable about the industry you work in is important. Professionals should attend conferences and continuing education courses to learn about the latest advances. Reading industry journals and seeking a mentor in your field can be helpful as well. You can demonstrate your expertise by:

  • recommending new tools, products and processes to improve outcomes

  • raying attention to your supervisor's feedback about your performance

  • practising essential skills often

  • volunteering for training opportunities as a student or an educator

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Exhibiting professionalism in different situations

Exhibiting a professional attitude will help employers understand that you're reliable and capable. However, different scenarios call for different behaviour. Here are some tips for using professionalism in a variety of situations:

Professionalism in an interview

An interview is your first chance to make a good impression on a potential employer. Since you may not know much about the company culture or dress code when you arrive, you should dress as formally as possible. Make eye contact with interviewers when you answer questions and speak clearly and respectfully. Don't say anything negative about former employers or coworkers, and share your accomplishments with confidence.

Related: 17 Interview Tips to Help You Get the Job

Professionalism with customers

Displaying proper professionalism with clients, customers and patients is important as well. However, you should adapt to your audience. For example, a teacher working with elementary school children needs a different attitude than a teller at a bank. You can occasionally make a joke or talk about the weather if the customer seems receptive, but you should stick to business if someone seems frustrated or in a hurry.

Related: Why Is Exceptional Customer Service Important? (Plus Tips)

Professionalism with colleagues

Always treat coworkers with respect. You may form friendships and more casual relationships with many of the people you work with, but you should still avoid acting unprofessional. Avoid potentially offensive comments or jokes. Remember that even if the person you're joking with isn't offended, another coworker may overhear and become uncomfortable.

Professionalism outside work

Your reputation can impact your professional life. Many people look up the names of business owners on social media before becoming customers. Companies also check out the online presence of their employees. A casual post that some people could find offensive might impact you later. With most social media sites, you can make some posts only visible to friends. Be respectful to strangers in public, and be kind and courteous to everyone you meet.

Remember that people may decide not to use your business if they see you behaving unprofessionally. Professional interactions can lead to referrals from friends, family members and satisfied customers. The people you meet outside work can help you grow your professional network and your reputation.

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