Scene 1: First day in Office
You are bursting with enthusiasm on the first day of your new job. Spruced and ready, you reach office well before time, looking forward to showing your commitment and dedication. You are eager to learn from seniors and hope for a great innings with the company. Bonding with your co-recruits and other staff, you are soon discussing everything under the sun with them. “This is a great place”, you think, and “I have made some excellent friends”. You plan to put in your best efforts to impress the boss, win over people, and achieve results.
Scene 2: Three months later
You are way behind your targets, and the boss is after your scalp. He has hinted several times that your probation might be extended. Your co-worker has back-stabbed you by filling the boss’ ears with some things you had cribbed about. Colleagues from other departments, who seemed so friendly at first, are now putting in conflicting and unreasonable demands. And no one is ready to allow for any slack or delay in getting their work done. You are disillusioned and exhausted, and suddenly, this company does not seem a good choice any more.
So what happened?
Simple. You have been thrown into the fiercely competitive world of corporate one-upmanship, and nobody told you the rules of the game. You have to learn on your own to survive here. And you have learnt the hard way, that personal friendships and back-slapping does not take you very far in the world out there.
So what are the rules to survive in this game?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines professionalism as:
Professionalism (N) : The skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well. The conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.
From the above definition, it can be safely deduced that professionalism entails the following characteristics:
- Focus on work skills
- Work behavior and attitude
- Qualities that characterize a professional
Professional attitude and behavior, displayed at the corporate workplace, is referred to as Workplace Professionalism.
It is the golden mantra for sustained success in the corporate world. In B-school you were taught organizational behavior and ethics, but workplace professionalism combines these two disciplines with good sense, maturity, and self discipline.
If you observe the behavior and conduct of successful leaders the world over, you will note that they have mastered all the golden rules of workplace professionalism.
So what are the golden rules?
- Be punctual and regular at work
- Try to stick to work deadlines
- Focus on doing your job well
- Maintain cordial relations with your colleagues
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Cover up mistakes or give wrong data for reports or presentations
- Make tall claims or oversell to customers
- Tell tales about your colleagues to superiors
- Spend time on social media or browsing the internet for personal work, or gossip or chit chat with colleagues
- Spend all your waking hours in office
These rules may seem quite obvious at face value, but in the daily struggle of corporate living, they are frequently overlooked. So while in the first few days of joining an organization, you are on your best behavior – maintaining punctuality and discipline, showing eagerness in completing job assignments – as time goes by, a certain casualness takes over.
So let’s revise each rule of workplace professionalism one by one.
Do be punctual and regular at work:
Yes, yes, you knew that already. It was the first lesson we all learnt at kindergarten. But to tell the truth, weren’t you slacking off a bit these days? Time keeping wasn’t your best habit any day. After all what are a few minutes here and there, so long as you are putting in the required efforts at work?
But unfortunately, in most corporate set-ups these issues do matter. There are people who live by the clock, and who will report to your boss your habit of late-coming. This will become an issue later if your performance is not up to the mark. And if you are unable to deliver results on time, all fingers will point to your late-coming. You can be sure this fact will seal your fate in the organization.
So don’t give them an opportunity. Ditch the late nights, get up early, take the earlier train or bus, do whatever, but reach office on time. Once you log in, you can take a breather, relax and spend a few minutes organizing your thoughts and planning the day.
Trust me, those few minutes of extra sleep grabbed in the morning are just not worth it. They do cost you later.
Being regular would also mean not taking leaves with alarming frequency, and not playing truant during office hours. Yes, your school pals are meeting after a long time, and you so badly want to catch the movie or the soccer match with them, but office hours are meant for office work. You are bound to be caught one day or the other, and then you will have hell to pay for.
If you want to display workplace professionalism, follow your office schedule and keep personal slack away.
Do try to stick to work deadlines:
Treat work deadlines, particularly those issued by the boss or other seniors, as sacrosanct.Your position, in the company you work for, may be something similar to the figure given below:
You are literally being pulled on all sides by varying demands and expectations. And everyone wants you to deliver on time, as per schedule. B-school has taught you about role conflict and role ambiguity, now you know what these mean.
A tiny fact of life: You will find that when you are sitting idle, no one gives you any assignments, but when you are already in the thick of things, another one or a couple of overlapping deadlines are forced on you. Suddenly all work starts pouring in.
Well, that is life! And workplace professionalism means dealing with all work demands gracefully.
Juggle all of these, multi-task, though not at the cost of doing a shoddy job, and somehow make it to the finishing line. And in the middle of it, do not crib or complain, at least not within hearing distance of your superiors.
Workplace professionalism means all this and more. Respecting that the work needs to be completed in time, putting in your all to meet commitments, being uncompromising in quality, these traits will firmly establish your standing in the organization.
Do focus on doing your job well:
Just meeting deadlines is not enough, in today’s dog- eat-dog world, your focus on quality of output matters very much. So you need to watch your work for errors, loopholes or carelessness. Even if these do get overlooked by chance once or twice, you need to ensure your work generally meets the expected standards of quality.
Workplace professionalism entails self-checking, monitoring, and revising, to eliminate errors and do a good job.
Do maintain cordial relations with your colleagues:
The key word here is “cordial”, and not over-friendly or back-slapping. There is an old adage that office co-workers can never be real friends.
Sadly, that is true to a great extent. Though outwardly friendly and compatible, colleagues will always have the undercurrent of competition running through their support. Resist the urge to pour your heart out, or badmouth your company policies or boss before colleagues, however friendly they may seem. Sharing job-related problems over coffee or lighthearted banter is okay, but don’t go overboard. Reserve unburdening of problems or bitching about office politics for your out-of-office friends or spouse.
Be friendly with your co-workers, offer support, lend a sympathetic year to their troubles, but draw a line on personal discussions during office hours. Gently remind the colleague that you have work to do, and ease out of controversial discussions. Workplace professionalism may cost you a couple of office friendships, but then, you gain some, you lose some, isn’t it?
Do take responsibility for your actions:
Ah, the mother of all issues! Taking responsibility for decisions gone wrong, ideas that failed, and actions that cost the organization dear, is extremely tough. But the road to workplace professionalism is paved with responsible behavior. Own up when your decisions turn out bad. Don’t pass the buck to your subordinates or team members. It takes courage to admit that you were wrong, but your superiors will admire you for that. Just don’t make it a habit to take bad decisions every now and then, and say sorry after that! Usually taking responsibility is accompanied by a resolve not to repeat the mistake in future.
What I have listed above is, I am sure, not that tough to follow, if you wish to imbibe workplace professionalism.
What follows now, is a bit tougher, and requires a good amount of self-discipline and maturity.
Don’t cover up mistakes or give wrong data for reports or presentations:
This follows the above point on taking responsibility. While you have access to all kinds of data and numbers to camouflage your botched-up actions, resist the urge to use them. At weekly or monthly review meetings, you need not flaunt your failures, but don’t bluff about your (non-existent) success either. Yes, this bluffing may seem harmless, but is against the grain of workplace professionalism.
Don’t make tall claims or oversell to customers:
While making sales or marketing presentations to customers make sure you are not overselling your product or services by making tall claims or boasting inflated figures. Your words will come back to haunt you the day your company can’t deliver on your promises. One of the cardinal rules of workplace professionalism involves ethical behavior. You need to make the deal, right, but not by messing up with facts and figures.
Don’t tell tales about your colleagues to superiors:
Your colleague has behaved abominably, yes. He/she has given you wrong information, held back resources, and has generally refused to cooperate. But you are not a child to go crying to your boss. As a mature individual you need to straighten things directly with your colleague. Use logic or pressure to make your point. If only all else fails, present your side of the story to your boss, as unemotionally as you can. Be careful, not to launch personal attacks on anyone. Stick to professional behavior.
Don’t spend time on social media
The lure of social media, online chatting sites, picture-sharing and networking sites is too strong these days to avoid altogether. Set aside a time when you will check out your Whatsapp, Instagram, or Facebook accounts, and your personal e-mail. Keep your notifications off during office hours. Resist the urge to log in and have a quick peek. It is never quick, and you will soon get sucked into mindless discussions and chats that will interfere with your precarious office schedules.
Right. So you have decided to log off social media, and take a stroll around to the water cooler or coffee vending machine. You find a couple of co-workers discussing some juicy gossip that’s just too hard to ignore. You join in, and soon are in full steam exchanging tidbits. The boss or some other senior has decided to pick just this moment to take a coffee break. And there you are, chattering away to your heart’s content, when the senior/boss passes you by. Caught on the wrong foot? You bet! Workplace professionalism involves keeping personal gossip out of your professional life.
Don’t spend all your waking hours in office:
You want to show your commitment and dedication, yes. You want to complete work on time, yes. You like your office environment, yes. But spending inordinate time hanging around in office? NO!
You may think you will be perceived as a zealous professional, but what you are actually conveying is that you are poor at time management, and have zero social life. Both of which are not good images to have.
Hanging around late in office on a regular basis, attending office on weekends even when there is no pressing need, missing out on social appointments citing work, all this will not earn you any brownie points. On the contrary, you will come across as someone with no sense of work-life balance, the essence of professionalism in today’s world.
Take time to lead your social life and pursue hobbies, advise life coaches, as these will support you in leading a well-balanced life. Corporate culture prefers well-balanced individuals, not over-worked, stressed-out workaholics.
I hope I have managed to convey the rules of workplace professionalism to you. You can always learn new company-specific rules on your corporate journey. Keep your eyes and ears open, and model your workplace behavior on that of those who are held in high esteem in your organization.
Workplace professionalism, practiced with earnestness, builds you a rock-solid reputation, and earns you respect and regard in the organization.
And in today’s corporate world of close networking and fragile reputations, that is what ultimately matters.
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