A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”
For young adults who are just entering the workforce, it can be an eye-opening experience. In a culture that has grown more coarse and casual by the year, and where parents and educators expect the other to take responsibility for building employability skills, many employers have significant retraining to do. So, it’s no surprise they are increasingly valuing professionalism in their employees.
When we hear the word, “professionalism,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is appearance and language. However, the scope is much broader. So, let’s review some of the key aspects of professionalism in a workplace context. Each one is important for adults and children to master.
Appearance: this includes dress, hygiene, countenance, body language, neatness, cleanliness, posture, etc. When you start a new job, err on the side of more conservative dress and closely observe how others, especially the most admired employees, appear. They’re your best role models. Workplace functions vary from casual to business-casual to business. Be sure to come properly attired no matter what. Would your CEO be comfortable including you in a major client dinner? There is only one right answer!
Attitude: employers expect you to arrive on time with a positive attitude and ready to rock. You must try your best regardless of what else is going on in your life or whether it’s a Monday morning after a week of vacation. Keep a positive disposition, even if you’re in stressful situations. Positivity is the sign of a winner!
Excellent Performance: true workplace superstars deliver high job performance and contribute to the success of the organization. They go above and beyond. They can be relied upon to achieve their goals and meet deadlines. Also, they work well with others (both inside and outside). Think “dependable excellence.”
Manners and Etiquette: these reflect on one’s personal standards and respect for others. They are especially important in business/social settings and meetings with clients and prospects. You needn’t be an Emily Post, but you must “show well” to others in your basic etiquette. Closely observe, and learn from, those with excellent manners, courtesy, and graciousness. You won’t win an account with exceptional manners, but you’ll surely lose one if they’re lacking.
Ethics and Confidentiality: every employer has basic policies and procedures that must be followed, in addition to laws and regulations. And, depending on the position, employees are often privy to confidential information. Here, your standards must be impeccable and nothing less. A broken trust, or failure to adhere to ethics and policies, can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask!
Representation of Employer’s Brand: most companies have a mission, vision, and statement of values to which employees are expected to honor. Your supervisor and leaders must be able to trust that you will capably represent the company’s values, both at work and in the community. As we’ve increasingly seen, that includes our comments and posts in the public square, especially on social media.
Communication and Relationships: in the workplace, our relational standards need to be even higher than with our personal relationships. Communication, both written and oral, must be more formal and appropriate, and always tactful and courteous. In order to build a harmonious working environment, positivity and constructive communication are the order of the day. Also, many lifelong friendships are formed at work, where mutuality and respect guide our behavior (especially in mixed gender relationships). Finally, one must never use position or power to abuse, disrespect, manipulate, or harass another. No exceptions.
Growth Mindset: successful employees are committed to lifelong learning. They seek professional development opportunities through webinars, journals, podcasts, and the experienced pros surrounding them. All of this positions employees for advancement in their current job and next-level opportunities.
Here are some key reasons why professionalism so important to employers:
- Employees are representing their employer and its brand, both internally and externally. Thus, professionalism is a personal and organizational issue.
- Customers and prospects expect and deserve it! Professionalism is a sign of respect we show others. We’ve all experienced unprofessional sales and service calls, and it motivates us to take our business elsewhere, doesn’t it?
- Employees who struggle with professionalism rarely last long and certainly receive fewer opportunities. This is especially the case if the position is people-centric like sales or customer service.
- It builds stronger relationships and helps us make good first impressions when we meet new people.
- It helps us do a solid job, even on those days when we’re not at our best.
- It helps us bring out the best in our colleagues, especially when we’re in managerial roles.
- It’s the right thing to do.
Parents, don’t take for granted that your children are learning these valuable employability skills at school. Take primary responsibility for it, and introduce them to successful professionals whenever you can. Today’s cultural messages are not preparing them in any way, shape, or form to be a professional, and our schools and universities aren’t consistently helping either. The ball is in your court.