Don’t let the tattoos, jeans, sneakers, and tote bags at work fool you. Despite a shifting attitude towards business dress codes, there’s still a place for professionalism in today’s workplace. But in 2019, it’s less about aesthetics and more about one’s decorum, interactions with colleagues, and one’s overall motivation to get the job done.
Headlines may suggest a different story, citing how millennials are entitled in the workplace, how we ghost prospective and current employers, and have no work ethic. But those are gross generalizations.
Sure, plenty of us have gotten too turnt at a company function (#guilty), vented about a coworker out of frustration, or shown up late a time or two, but it’s the repetition of those behaviors that could cost you your job.
So what exactly does it mean to be a “good” worker and lead with #professionalism?
Amanda Augustine, a certified professional career coach with over 15 years of industry experience, notes that taking responsibility for your work is one of the biggest traits associated with professional behavior.
“Are you doing your work to the best of your ability and showing commitment?” Augustine asks. “A sign of someone who is highly professional is never just thinking about checking a task off a to-do list. They’re thinking about the bigger picture and are being proactive. They’re never sitting there and saying, ‘Well, that’s not my job,’ or ‘That’s not in my job description.’”
A few other pillars of professionalism include:
1. Thinking holistically about team goals (i.e. asking one’s self, “What is our department trying to accomplish? What am I doing that could be helping somebody else out?”
2. Having a proactive approach to professional development (i.e. If you’re not seeing the opportunities you need, ask for them. And if you’re not getting them in the workplace, look for opportunities outside the workplace to gain those skills.)
3. Being honest and ethical
4. Being dependable and punctual
5. Striving to be a problem solver, not a problem identifier
Of course, professionalism is a fluid construct (and it can vastly differ between corporate businesses and smaller startups), so you’ll want to scope out the behavior at your particular place of work and take cues from those around you.
Augustine says, “Look at the top performers in your department and senior management and take cues from them to understand what’s acceptable and what’s not, because it’s going to vary.”
And take a look at your employee handbook. If anything seems murky, bring it up with your boss or HR to get a clear idea of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
No matter where you work though, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid being sloppy or too casual in your communication style (like, ahem, dropping f-bombs in meetings), habitually showing up late, interrupting coworkers in meetings, making inappropriate comments, and ignoring any company drug policies. This conduct could be a red flag to your employer that you’re not taking your role seriously and bring on a dismissal.
And remember, the further along you are in your career, the higher the stakes and the expectations are. “If you can maintain your integrity and be regarded as someone who’s highly professional, that definitely helps carry you along,” Augustine says.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork around what professionalism is in the workplace, let’s run through how to redeem yourself if you’ve found yourself in an unprofessional situation.
What to do if you’ve been caught bad-mouthing a colleague or boss:
If you’ve been confronted about an incident, step one is to own up to it. “You can’t pretend it didn’t happen,” Augustine says. “Lying is worse. It can’t help your level of professionalism if you start lying, particularly because if you’re being accused of it, chances are, there’s some sort of proof.”
“If you’ve ever received constructive criticism for behavior you didn’t even realize you were doing, thank them for giving you that feedback in the first place,” Augustine says. “Second, even if you think you’re not doing it, keep reminding yourself that perception is reality and now it’s your job to change that perception.”
“When you’re open and willing to accept feedback, you’re already improving your professional reputation.”
What to do if you overdid it at the company happy hour:
If you had a drunken mishap, contact your confidante at the company and ask, “How bad was I?” “If you wake up with a headache and a fuzzy memory, you’re going to assume the worst,” Augustine says. “So before you jump to conclusions, always talk to somebody and find out, ‘how embarrassed should I be?’ ‘Did I say or do anything that I should be apologizing for?’”
If indeed something did happen, apologize. Being professional is not just owning your job, but owning your mistakes and taking responsibility for them.
Draft up an email that says something like: It’s come to my attention that I may have indulged a little too much at our work function, and I want to say I am terribly sorry if I offended you in any way. Please let me know if you’d like to talk about it any further. It’s safe to say I’ve learned my lesson and I will be conducting myself differently at future parties.
What to do if you’re constantly running late or missing deadlines:
The key here is giving yourself fake deadlines. If something is due Thursday at 5 p.m. pencil it into your calendar for Tuesday at noon. Have your boss or project manager do the same if you don’t typically manage your own schedule or due dates. And if tardiness is a recurring theme with you, set your clocks at home a few minutes early to nudge you to get out of the house on time.
How to resign without burning bridges:
Always offer the two weeks and try to do it face-to-face. If you’re a remote worker, try for a video conference. Augustine says you’ll want to make the transition process as easy as you can by documenting your work so that when they hire somebody new, they’ll have documentation to follow. Leave with integrity because you’ll probably encounter your colleagues again in the future.
“Don’t quit to run away from a job, quit because you found a new job.”
Whether you’ve made it to the C-suite or are about to step into your fist management role, leadership skills are something we can always brush up on and improve upon. Join us in Leadership Hall at the Girlboss Rally for actionable workshops and IRL advice that will help you step into your next leadership role. Register now at.