Your professionalism in the workplace will have a major impact on your career progression. You can do a lot of things to project professionalism at work but just one act of unprofessionalism can undo all the good things you’ve done.
You labored through at least four long years of college classes (some of which you will never use) and earned that degree so you could get a real job. Your hard work paid off and you’re in that job.
Every day, you wake up and get ready for the work day ahead. Hopefully you’re excited about going to work each day. You’ve worked really hard to get where you are and you have goals of climbing the corporate ladder.
The last thing you want is to not step on the next rung of the ladder because you don’t know what professionalism in the workplace means.
You’re trying your best.
Maybe you just don’t know what professionalism in the workplace looks like, especially to your boss. This article will help you understand what will impair your boss’s perception of you as it relates to your professionalism in the workplace.
Below are 18 ways you can impair that professionalism you’re striving so hard to portray. Stay away from each of these and do the opposite and you’ll be climbing the ladder in no time.
Lying in the workplace is NEVER a good idea. Even if it is a little white lie said to save face or protect someone’s feelings, lying will never turn out for the better.
If you are asked your opinion, give it. The person asking the question is asking for a reason so give your opinion. Always, though, give those touchy answers with respect and grace.
Always fess up to mistakes you’ve made. Never try to lie your way out of them. You will be found out.
Never make up excuses for why something went wrong. Tell the truth.
2. Cheating or stealing
Unethical activities should not be tolerated. Any form of cheating or stealing will not just impair your appearance of professionalism in the workplace, it will make it almost impossible to ever gain back again.
Click on the link below to read a detailed account of ways employees cheat and steal from their companies. If you’re guilty of any of these, stop it!
3. Dressing unprofessional
Dressing professionally does not mean wearing a three-piece suit every day. It really depends on the expectations of your audience, employer or clients.
In some cases, jeans and a polo is okay. In others, it will get you fired. Know the expectations and exceed them. Don’t dress to meet the lowest level of expectation either. Dress to impress.
“Shame on him for looking good,” said no one ever.
4. Using foul language
No one ever gets criticized for not using foul language. However, use foul language when talking to the wrong person and the perception of your professionalism will be hurt quickly.
In my opinion, and not just because I don’t curse, it is a better idea to NEVER use foul language. If you don’t use it, you won’t slip when it matters.
If you don’t use it, you won’t have to explain yourself to your kids (or your grandmother).
If you don’t use it, you won’t regret it.
5. Taking on too much
This may not make sense. You can take on too much. The more you say yes when asked to work on a project, volunteer at an event or mentor a younger person, the more you will be asked to do in the future.
Helping is great; being reliable is even more important. If you take on too much, eventually you will love the ability to perform effectively.
Learn to say yes only when you know you have the capacity. If you don’t, then say no.
Say no more often than you say yes.
6. Not doing what you said you would do
If you say you will do something, do it…and do it well. If you say you will attend a meeting, attend it.
All too often we say yes to something with no true intention to do it. We say yes because it’s what is expected of us.
Stop it. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
It only takes one time of failing to do what you said to hurt others’ perception of your professionalism in the workplace.
7. Being unresponsive
Being as responsive as people want us to be is difficult these days. Most people believe email is a tool to be used for an immediate response. It’s not.
Responding in line with the inquisitor’s expectations is so important. If you don’t, you may lose that contact.
I know how it can be to be responsive all the time. This is my biggest challenge in business. If I end up being late in a response, I apologize. That usually solves the issue before it becomes an issue.
However, apologizing should not be the norm.
Remember how frustrated you get when people don’t respond timely to you. Don’t let it be a double standard. Reply as quickly to others as you want them to do with you.
8. Pretending to know when you don’t
We are all expected to know certain things for our positions. We are not, however, expected to know everything.
If you are asked a question to which you do not know the answer, don’t pretend to know and make up an answer. Instead, admit you do not know. That is showing proper professionalism in the workplace.
Don’t stop there though. Instead of just stating you don’t know the answer, indicate you will find out the answer.
Telling someone you will research the issue and get back to him is perfectly acceptable.
9. Communicating poorly
Your writing does not need to resemble Ernest Hemingway and you do not need to speak like the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan.
What you do need to do is communicate well. Not eloquent. Not profound. Not in-depth.
Just communicate well.
Follow the majority of rules of grammar when you talk or write. Re-read what you write before you press send. Take your time. Think before you speak.
All of these are great rules to follow. For specific tips on communicating well, read the following series of Communication Secrets:
10. Not apologizing
Admit when you make a mistake and then say you are sorry. This is not always easy to do, especially if it is face-to-face.
However, true professionalism in the workplace requires this!
Sometimes, you even need to apologize if the issue wasn’t your fault. That is never easy to do. It may be the only reason to salvage a relationship though.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter whose mistake it was. What matters is how both parties move on after the mistake occurs.
11. Not being prepared
We’ve all sit and listened to presentations where it was obvious the speaker was not prepared. Is there anything more grueling to sit through?
Remember that as you have speeches, projects, etc. for which you are responsible. Follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared.”
Not being prepared cannot be passed on to anyone else (assuming you were provided adequate notice of your responsibilities). It is your fault if you are not prepared.
Not being prepared really comes down to respect for others. If you respect your audience, your boss or your family, you’ll be prepared so as not to waste their time.
12. Being late
If you are late, you weren’t prepared. You didn’t respect the person(s) you were meeting enough to plan ahead to make sure you were on time.
Late and disrespect. Talk about impairing professionalism in the workplace.
You can prevent being late. Give yourself extra time for your commute. Have everything laid out and ready to go before you leave. Make sure your print outs are already in your bag.
Blaming your tardiness on traffic, or you couldn’t get off the phone or even the kids didn’t cooperate in the morning are not good excuses. That’s just what they are – excuses.
13. Focusing on yourself
Business relationships, transactions and even acquaintances are not about you. You are not the focus. The other person should be your focus.
Most of us, including me, can talk about ourselves, our families and our work all night long. We need to let others talk about themselves so they feel important.
If you want to be interesting, first be interested.
On a side note, did you ever think that if both people in a conversation let the other person talk that there would be silence? Things that make you go “hmmm.”
14. Sharing confidential information
There are laws we must follow about sharing confidential information. In the public accounting and banking worlds in which I practice, information security is one of the largest priorities in an organization.
We have to be so careful about what we say and to whom we say it.
Just because something is interesting does not mean we have the liberty to share it. We need to be careful.
This will not only impair our professionalism in the workplace, it can also lose us a job or a client.
15. Degrading others
Some people are just mean and seem to thrive off of degrading others. Belittling, yelling or speaking rudely to others should not be tolerated.
We all know people like this. A lack of confidence is usually at the heart of these types of people’s issues. It’s unfortunate we all have to experience it.
When you see someone in upper management degrade an employee, don’t you automatically lose respect for that manager?
What about someone being rude with a cashier at a gas station or grocery store? That’s exactly the same situation.
Degrading others, regardless of the reason, will decrease my view of your professionalism in the workplace or out of the work place.
We’ve all been guilty of complaining. You know you have too.
I’ve been there and every time I feel myself starting to complain it makes me wince.
Complaining is pointless. It doesn’t do anyone any good. We need to speak up or shut up.
Try to go five days without complaining. Can you do it? Put some money behind it. Make an agreement with one of your peers that you are going to put 50 cents in a jar every time you catch yourself or are caught complaining. At the end of the five days (or whatever time frame you choose), you’re giving that money to your co-worker.
Do this and I guarantee your co-worker will catch you complaining, even if you don’t catch yourself.
17. Being negative
Don’t you feel refreshed being around a happy and positive person? I sure do. It’s so refreshing. It’s even contagious.
Negativity is contagious too. Not only will you start being negative if you hang around a “Negative Nelly” but you will suffer physically as well. It will drain your energy and your mood.
It will do that to others as well. If you really want to lose a client, be negative all the time. They will find someone happier and more positive to work with. I guarantee it.
18. Undercharging for your services
Depending on your business, you may not control how much you charge for your services. If you do control it, you want to charge in accordance with the value you or your product or service provides.
The cheapest option is rarely the best option. There have been several studies performed where an object is sold at a low cost and high price. The one with the high price always sells the most.
Why does it sell more than the cheaper item?
It’s because it has a higher perceived value and quality.
Evaluate your professionalism in the workplace
Now that you’ve read those 18 ways to impair your professionalism in the workplace, how do you stack up? Were you guilty of any of these infractions today?
I was and I’m frustrated with myself because of it.
Now that I recognize I was unprofessional, I’m focused on correcting it in the future.
Don’t worry about what you’ve done in the past. Do things right going forward.
Another word on negativity
This post was focused on negative things. It took looking at some things that impair professionalism in the workplace to discover how we can do things better.
It’s much easier for us to see the negative things. If that were not true, we wouldn’t have all the discussion about how to effectively perform employee evaluations.
I wish we were all better at providing timely positive feedback. We can be. Sometimes, though, we have to see the bad to see the good.
Hopefully you can see the good that will come from ceasing these negative activities.