Guide to Professionalism in the Workplace

Updated August 31, 2023

Professionalism is a set of characteristics that displays your ability to be a hardworking, dependable and respectful individual in formal settings. Developing and maintaining professional behavior is essential to success in the workplace. The way you conduct yourself, relate to others and approach tasks all factor into your degree of professionalism.

This includes dressing appropriately, treating others with respect and maintaining a positive attitude. In this article, we discuss the main characteristics of professionalism and how to demonstrate that you have them.

Why is professionalism important?

Employers expect both candidates and hired employees to demonstrate professionalism when interacting with others. Those who display personal professionalism are usually rewarded with better opportunities, such as career advancement and increased compensation. Because of this, it's easy to see why professionalism is important in the workplace.

Image description

Colleagues stand side by side. One is holding a tablet, and they are both looking at the screen. There's a list of professional qualities to one side of the image. The headline says, "Professional qualities" the list below is:
• Reliability
• Humility
• Etiquette
• Neatness
• Consideration
• Dedication
• Organization
• Accountability
• Integrity
• Expertise

How to be professional in the workplace

Here are 10 actionable tips you can use to be more professional in the workplace:

1. Be reliable

Reliability is crucial to workplace success. Departments are more efficient and effective when co-workers can rely on one another to do their part. When you and your teammates trust each other to meet deadlines, produce quality work and respond promptly to requests, it’s easier to meet organizational goals and overcome challenges.

To be reliable, you also need to be flexible and focus on your duties when faced with unforeseen obstacles. Consider the difference between an information technology (IT) professional who becomes anxious and alarmed about a software bug and one who acknowledges the issue and calmly moves forward to fix it. Employers prefer to hire professionals who can maintain an even demeanor because they are more reliable and thus more professional.

You can demonstrate reliability in the workplace by:

  • Always following up on requests or questions

  • Arriving on time or early for work, meetings and events

  • Producing a consistent quality of work

  • Responding to issues in a consistent manner

  • Following processes and procedures

  • Giving full attention to the task at hand

2. Demonstrate humility

Another essential aspect of professionalism is humility or the ability to. Those who exhibit humility are confident without being arrogant and recognize the value others bring to the team. Humility helps people cooperate and work together as a team without one individual considering themself more important than others.

Humble employees respect their peers, acknowledge others’ hard work and avoid boasting about personal accomplishments. These professionals often place greater emphasis on how outcomes affect the entire team rather than themselves.

You can demonstrate humility in the workplace by:

  • Seeking ways to help develop others alongside yourself

  • Acknowledging your mistakes

  • Asking for assistance when necessary

  • Accepting constructive criticism

  • Asking for and following advice from more experienced or knowledgeable professionals

  • Doing what it takes to meet team goals even if it involves tasks below your level of expertise

  • Encouraging others to share their thoughts, ideas and constructive criticism

3. Demonstrate etiquette

Etiquette is an unwritten code of conduct or the “proper” or “right” way to act in workplace situations. Using proper etiquette often means demonstrating good manners, being polite and treating others with courtesy and respect. This is true whether you’re being interviewed for a job or seeking career advancement. While business etiquette can vary between employers and industries, it’s always better to be more formal than not formal enough.

You can demonstrate proper business etiquette in the workplace by:

  • Greeting new people with a handshake

  • Dressing appropriately

  • Using professional language and full sentences in written communications

  • Putting your phone away during meetings and in face-to-face conversations

  • Greeting others by name

  • Making eye contact when speaking to others

  • Keeping conversations focused on work and avoiding personal topics

4. Be neat

One key aspect of professionalism is maintaining a professional appearance with good hygiene and cleanliness in both your appearance and workspace. You must meet your organization’s professional dress code and keep your workstation free of clutter. Neatness shows others you’re organized, conscious of how you present yourself and prepared to handle your job duties.

You can demonstrate neatness in the workplace by:

  • Ensuring your clothing is clean and free of wrinkles and holes

  • Selecting clothing that’s appropriate for your job

  • Maintaining proper personal hygiene

  • Keeping your work area tidy and organized

5. Show consideration

Employees who show consideration are mindful of the thoughts, feelings and needs of others. They’re kind to colleagues and customers even in challenging situations. This is a vital interpersonal skill. While you may have to deliver bad news or express criticism of a project or its results, doing so with consideration is more constructive and effective.

Those who are considerate demonstrate thoughtfulness and empathy which can include everything from asking a colleague about their weekend to helping an overwhelmed co-worker complete a challenging project.

You can demonstrate consideration in the workplace by:

  • Being polite and kind to your peers, managers and customers

  • Making an effort to assist others in need

  • Remaining tolerant and respectful of others and their feelings

  • Listening to others’ thoughts and opinions carefully before responding

6. Demonstrate a strong work ethic

Employers prefer to hire professionals who are devoted to their work and are more likely to offer additional responsibilities and opportunities to those who are engaged in the workplace. Demonstrating work ethic shows employers you’re loyal to the company and committed to delivering positive outcomes through your work. Proving you’re dependable and willing to put in extra effort to meet your employer’s needs will help you advance your career.

You can demonstrate dedication in the workplace by:

  • Taking initiative and volunteering for new projects

  • Exhibiting a positive work ethic

  • Delivering high-quality work

  • Being punctual

  • Meeting all deadlines

  • Maintaining a positive attitude about your job duties

7. Be organized

While organization is similar to neatness, you can keep your desk neat but still find it difficult to locate things promptly. However, if your space is both neat and organized, you will know where everything is, find important items quickly and work more efficiently.

Being organized also extends beyond your physical workspace. Organized professionals can better manage their time and obligations. They have a clear grasp of what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time and set personal deadlines to keep themselves on track. Being organized ensures they don’t miss important details and make the best use of their workday.

You can demonstrate organization in the workplace by:

  • Maintaining a clear agenda

  • Creating and updating to-do lists

  • Always returning items to the right locations

  • Preparing for tasks by gathering the proper tools and information ahead of time

8. Be accountable

While employers often hold their workers accountable, the most effective professionals do this for themselves. Demonstrating accountability shows others you take responsibility for your actions and their results. Accountability requires you to accept your role in mistakes or failures which can be challenging. However, it also proves your self-awareness and commitment to honesty and integrity.

You can demonstrate accountability in the workplace by:

  • Completing all tasks assigned to you on time

  • Accepting responsibility for the outcome of any project you’ve participated in

  • Striving to achieve your goals and do your part to help your team meet business objectives

9. Demonstrate integrity

Integrity is an important part of professionalism because it assures others that you will always try to do what is right and fair. Those who have great integrity are honest and ethical at all times.

Employees demonstrate integrity by delivering on their promises and taking responsibility for their actions. They take a proactive approach to challenges in the workplace rather than waiting for issues to be discovered. Acting with integrity also means being respectful of all those around you, including co-workers, supervisors, subordinates and customers.

You can demonstrate integrity in the workplace by:

  • Keeping your word at all times

  • Avoiding workplace gossip

  • Being honest in all your business dealings

  • Maintaining confidentiality when required

  • Avoiding discussing sensitive topics not relevant to your job

  • Adhering to all company policies and procedures, even when no one is watching

  • Giving credit to others for their accomplishments

10. Acquire expertise

While you don’t need to be an expert on everything, it’s important to be competent in the areas for which you are responsible. For example, a heating, cooling and air-conditioning (HVAC) technician who knows about the latest technologies for energy-efficient cooling will seem more professional to customers and peers than one who hasn’t taken the time to learn the latest industry best practices.

In most cases, it takes ongoing effort to maintain a high level of industry expertise. To continue developing your knowledge and skills, you might read industry journals, attend conferences, enroll in relevant courses, practice with new technology and seek a mentor in your field. The more expertise you have in your field, the more professional you will appear to others.

You can demonstrate expertise in the workplace by:

  • Recommending new products, tools and processes to improve outcomes

  • Asking your manager for feedback about performance to determine where you can improve

  • Staying current on new industry developments

  • Pursuing continuing education in your field

  • Practicing essential skills often

  • Volunteering for training opportunities, both as a student and an educator

Read more: How To Grow Professionally in Your Career

Tips for being professional in different workplace situations

Your commitment to professionalism will help employers understand your ability to be reliable and capable. However, different scenarios require different behaviors. Here are a few tips for using professionalism in a variety of workplace situations:

Professionalism in an interview

An interview is your first chance to make a positive impression on a potential employer so it’s essential you appear as professional as possible.

You can exhibit professionalism in an interview by:

  • Dressing more formally than you might as an employee

  • Greeting each person with a handshake

  • Making eye contact as you speak

  • Speaking clearly and respectfully without using slang or jargon

  • Sharing your accomplishments with confidence

  • Avoiding any negative comments about previous employers or colleagues

Read more: Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great Impression

Professionalism with customers

If you have direct contact with customers, clients, patients or others served by your organization, it’s important to display proper professionalism at all times. However, it’s also crucial you adapt your behavior and language to your audience. For example, a professional demeanor working with children will be notably different than one working with busy stakeholders.

Some aspects of professionalism are universal such as:

  • Arriving early for meetings

  • Responding promptly to questions and requests

  • Treating others with courtesy and respect

  • Demonstrating tolerance for other beliefs and opinions

  • Acting with honesty and integrity

Related: Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples

Professionalism with colleagues

Navigating professionalism can become more complex when you’re interacting with your co-workers. While you should always treat them with respect and tolerance, you may also form friendships that make certain formalities may feel unnatural. However, you should still be wary of acting in an unprofessional manner or engaging in misconduct. Avoid jokes or stories that might be perceived as offensive or insensitive.

When you’re in a work environment, you should maintain a clear sense of professionalism that’s different from how you would act in a casual environment. This includes:

  • Avoiding unprofessional language

  • Showing respect and compassion for those around you

  • Exercising punctuality

Developing your professionalism is essential for launching and advancing a successful career. While your industry and workplace environment has a significant impact on which aspects of professionalism are most important, adopting the characteristics and habits listed above can help ensure you’re prepared no matter where you work.

Related: How To Develop a Professional Attitude

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