Updated May 20, 2023
Scene 1: First Day in Office
You are bursting with enthusiasm on the first day of your new job.
Spruced and ready, you reach the office well before time, looking forward to showing your commitment and dedication. You are eager to learn from seniors and hope for a great inning 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 try your best to impress the boss, win over people, and achieve results.
Scene 2: Three Months Later
You are 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, now put in conflicting and unreasonable demands. And no one is ready to allow for any slack or delay in completing their work. You are disillusioned and exhausted, and suddenly, this company no longer seems a good choice.
So what happened?
Simple. You have been thrown into the fiercely competitive world of corporate one-upmanship, and nobody told you the game’s rules. You have to learn on your own to survive here. And you have learned that personal friendships and back-slapping do not take you very far in the world.
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 expected from a person 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
Workplace Professionalism refers to the professional attitude and behavior displayed at the corporate workplace.
It is the golden mantra for sustained success in the corporate world. You were taught organizational behavior and ethics in B-school, but workplace professionalism combines these two disciplines with good sense, maturity, and self-discipline.
If you observe the behavior and conduct of successful leaders worldwide, 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, gossip, or chit-chat with colleagues.
- Spend all your waking hours in the office.
In the daily struggle of corporate living, these rules are frequently overlooked, even though they may seem quite obvious at face value. 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 – a certain casualness takes over as time passes.
So let’s revise each rule of workplace professionalism one by one.
1. Do be punctual and regular at work
Yes, yes, you knew that already. It was the first lesson we all learned at kindergarten. But to tell the truth, weren’t you slacking off a bit these days? Timekeeping wasn’t your best habit any day. After all, what are a few minutes here and there, so long as you put in the required work effort?
But unfortunately, in most corporate set-ups, these issues do matter. Some people live by the clock and will report your habit of late-coming to your boss. This will become an issue later if your performance is not up to the mark. And if you cannot 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 please don’t give them an opportunity. Ditch the late nights, get up early, take the earlier train or bus, do whatever, but reach the 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.
Taking those few extra minutes of morning sleep is 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 will be caught one day or the other and have hell to pay for.
To display workplace professionalism, follow your office schedule and avoid personal slack.
2. 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:
Varying demands and expectations are pulling you on all sides, quite literally. And everyone wants you to deliver on time, as per schedule. B-school has taught you about role conflict and 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 these, multi-task, though not at the cost of doing a shoddy job, and somehow make it to the finish 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. To firmly establish your standing in the organization, you must respect that the work must be completed on time, put in your all to meet commitments, and be uncompromising in quality.
3. Do focus on doing your job well
Meeting deadlines is not enough; your focus on output quality matters greatly in today’s dog-eat-dog world. So watching your work for errors, loopholes, or carelessness would be best. You need to ensure that your work generally meets the expected standards of quality, even if someone overlooks it by chance once or twice.
Workplace professionalism entails self-checking, monitoring, and revising to eliminate errors and do a good job.
4. Do maintain cordial relations with your colleagues
The key word here is “cordial” and not over-friendly or back-slapping. There is an 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, and lend a sympathetic year to their troubles, but draw a line on personal discussions during office hours. Gently remind the colleague you have work to do, and avoid controversial discussions. Workplace professionalism may cost you a couple of office friendships, but then you gain some and lose some.
5. Do take responsibility for your actions
Ah, the mother of all issues! Taking responsibility for wrong decisions, failed ideas, 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 you were wrong, but your superiors will admire you. Don’t make it a habit to make bad decisions now and then, and say sorry after that! Usually, taking responsibility is accompanied by a resolve not to repeat the mistake in the 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.
6. Don’t cover up mistakes or give wrong data for reports or presentations
This follows the above point on taking responsibility. While you can access all kinds of data and numbers to camouflage your botched-up actions, resist the urge to use them. You need not flaunt your failures at weekly or monthly review meetings but don’t bluff about your (non-existent) success either. This bluffing may seem harmless, but it is against workplace professionalism.
7. Don’t make tall claims or oversell to customers
While making sales or marketing presentations to customers, ensure you are not overselling your product or services by making tall claims or boasting inflated figures. Your words will return 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 must make the deal, but not by messing up with facts and figures.
8. Don’t tell tales about your colleagues to superiors
Your colleague has behaved abominably, yes. They gave you wrong information, held back resources, and refused to cooperate. But you are not a child to go crying to your boss. As a mature individual, you must straighten things out 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 possible. Be careful not to launch personal attacks on anyone. Stick to professional behavior.
9. 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 time to 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. You will soon get sucked into mindless discussions and chats that interfere with your precarious office schedules, and it’s never quick.
Right. So you have decided to log off social media and stroll to the water cooler or coffee vending machine. You find a couple of co-workers discussing 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.
10. Don’t spend all your waking hours in the office
Do you want to show your commitment and dedication? Yes. Do You want to complete work on time? Yes. You like your office environment, yes. But spending inordinate time hanging around in the office? NO!
You may think you will be perceived as a zealous professional, but you convey 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 the office regularly, attending the office on weekends even when there is no pressing need, missing out on social appointments, and citing work, all 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, pursue hobbies, and 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. Model your workplace behavior on those held in high esteem in your organization, and keep your eyes and ears open.
Workplace professionalism practiced earnestly builds 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 ultimately matters.
We hope that this EDUCBA information on “Workplace Professionalism” was beneficial to you. You can view EDUCBA’s recommended articles for more information,