Professionalism at Work: How Punctuality, Responsibility, & Attire Impact Reputation
Let’s talk about professionalism at work. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
We’ve all worked with people who define professionalism. They seem to have it all together, don’t they? They don’t arrive late. You never hear them say something harsh or inappropriate. They’re hard workers, and you can count on them to complete tasks. They even DRESS appropriately.
On the other hand, we’ve all worked with people who are the antithesis of professionalism.
Unprofessional workers are never on time and always have excuses for being late. You can’t rely on them to complete tasks or hold up their end on projects. They often make crude jokes or behave inappropriately—embarrassing you or others. You have observed it takes them twice as long to complete tasks; goal-oriented and productive aren’t terms you’d use to describe them. And honestly, you simply can’t trust them to do what’s right, ethical, fair, or responsible on a daily basis.
As a result of these issues, people demonstrating these traits may require hand-holding or extra supervision in the workplace.
Most of us don’t have it all together, but most of us are not extreme examples of the opposite of professionalism either. We can all always stand to grow, learn, and become more professional.
What exactly is professionalism? Why does it matter? How can you become more professional?
Defining Professionalism at Work
What exactly is professionalism at work? Definitions differ, but generally, professionalism is behaving and appearing professional in nature. Professional is defined as possessing qualities of skilled or trained people, including but not limited to effectiveness, skill, organization, productivity, and appropriate behavior.
Many career and workplace experts agree there are several traits and behaviors characterizing professionalism and professional people. These include:
- Highly productive
- Calm demeanor
- Positive attitude
- Strong workplace ethics
- Appropriate attire
- Communicates clearly, effectively, and appropriately
- Represents the employer well at all times
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it may feel exhausting reading it if you’re an entry-level employee or a recent college graduate. It takes time to hone these traits and practice these skills. Most of the traits of professionalism require strong career readiness and great soft skills. These are skills you can improve upon even if you currently feel you fall short in certain areas.
Professionalism at Work & Your Personal Brand
One reason to care about professionalism is that employers care about it. In a recent survey, the National Association of Colleges & Employers found that more than 86% of employers consider professionalism to be very or extremely important. Yet this same survey found that only 44% of employers believe recent college graduates possess this set of skills.
That’s a 42% gap. This is where you come in! If you can work to become a more professional employee, you’ll make a great impression and stand out from the crowd at work and during the hiring process, too.
Remember this: your level of professionalism directly impacts how others view you. This is your brand or reputation. If you care about making a good impression and having a good reputation, thus earning job opportunities and promotions, heed advice about professionalism.
Three Keys to Professionalism at Work & How to Hone Them
Three aspects of professionalism—which prove key in making a good impression in the workplace and during the hiring process—are punctuality, responsibility, and attire. These are very tangible, visible ways others measure your level of professionalism.
They’re also typically the deal-breakers of professionalism.
For example, you can sometimes skate by with a grumpy attitude at work. Your employer may notice your poor attitude, but they won’t necessarily terminate your employment because of it. Most employers will forgive that attitude if they note you’re always on time, you do your part when you say you will, and you dress appropriately for the job.
But show up late too many times, and you will likely be reprimanded or fired. Wear inappropriate clothing at work, and you’ll either be reprimanded, fired, or placed on a mental list of “not promotable.” And shirk your job duties, and you’ll be reprimanded, fired, rarely selected for team projects, or never promoted.
Here are some ways to work on these three critical keys of professionalism at work.
Punctuality is a problem in the American workforce. Over 41% of employers disclosed they have fired someone for repeatedly showing up late. And 16% of employees admitted to arriving late at work once a week. Lastly, businesses lose more than $84 billion annually due to absenteeism.
Employers need employees to show up on time because lost time is lost productivity. Loss of productivity leads to loss of income for the organization, lower morale, and less effective programs, services, and operations.
If you struggle with showing up on time, here are some tips to help you improve.
If you must be late, notify your employer (or clients) in advance.
If you’re meeting at 3 p.m., the worst thing you can do is realize you’re running late, keep rushing around, and then call or text at 3:01 p.m. stating, “Hey, sorry, but wanted to let you know I will be about ten minutes late.”
If you’re late, you knew you would be late in advance. The best time to share that information with the person(s) waiting for you is as soon as you know you’re behind schedule.
There will always be factors we cannot control. We can’t predict traffic jams or emergencies. But we can notify our employer right away when we realize our current situation is going to prevent us from being punctual.
Think about the most common reasons you’re late. Traffic, emergent health issues, waking up late… these are a few. What can you do to thwart these tardiness culprits?
If traffic regularly prevents you from arriving on time, leave earlier. Research alternate routes to your workplace. Even if the alternate route takes you ten more minutes on an average day of traffic, that route might be a safer option to ensure punctuality.
If you struggle to wake up on time, examine why you’re struggling. Are you taking medication too late at night, and you’re feeling groggy the next morning? Do you need to put your phone outside your bedroom to prevent late-night scrolling, which is proven to cause restless sleep? Establish a regular, soothing bedtime routine. Set multiple alarms. Make coffee the night before.
Do whatever you need to do to ensure you eliminate those tardiness culprits from ruining your professional life.
Taking personal responsibility to complete tasks on time—completely, efficiently, and accurately—will always prove you an asset to your employer. Here are a few considerations regarding personal responsibility in the workplace.
One of the worst things you can do when you struggle with any problem in the workplace is to place the blame elsewhere. Be honest with yourself and your employer about the reasons you’re struggling. Then make amends. Saying you’re sorry won’t fix the situation. You have to prove it by changing your behavior and righting your wrongs.
Be a Team Player
Recognize that if you don’t complete tasks on time, you don’t just cost the company money. You affect real people.
Look around at your team members. They’re showing up and putting forth the effort to produce and perform. Teams rely on all members doing their part.
If you want to build strong professional relationships—which is a key component of networking well and earning promotions—you have to earn the respect of your team. They need to know they can count on you.
One of the most common reasons people fail to perform well or complete tasks are distractions in the workplace. If you work from home, this is still a consideration, even though you may have fewer people interrupting you.
Each time you find yourself distracted from the task at hand, ask yourself, “What distracted me? When did I stop working on this?” Trace it back to the root cause. Jot down the cause. If you keep track of these distractions for one week, you’ll likely find patterns of causation. Then go to work eliminating distractions.
You might be distracted by messes in your work or home office. Clean up (off the clock), so you can focus when working. Maybe you need to close all social media while you’re writing or programming to avoid notifications from pulling away your focus.
Here are two ways you can ensure you’re dressing appropriately for work on a regular basis:
Ask your employer (manager or human resources personnel) which attire is appropriate. You’ll likely find recommended or required attire detailed in the employee handbook. But having a real conversation with a human being in your workplace can also give you insight into preferences. If you want to make a good impression, you’ll need to be willing to yield to others’ preferences as long as they don’t violate your rights and dignity.
Consider Your Closet
Spend time looking through the clothing you own.
Is your closet full of jeans and t-shirts? That’s fine if you work remotely or for an organization with a very casual dress code. Is your dresser stuffed with skin-tight tops and short skirts?
Keep those for nights out—when you dress professionally, you need to dress modestly and appropriately at all times.
Even if you work for an organization with a relaxed policy related to attire, almost every employer wants their employees to dress modestly, appropriate for the task or occasion, and in a manner that is not distracting to others. Use these principles as general guides when purchasing clothing and selecting outfits for work.
Professionalism & Your Organization’s Reputation
As you work to become more professional, not only will you build your own reputation. You will also build the reputation of your organization.
When you attend meetings or professional development conferences outside your organization, you’re representing your company. Show up on time. Complete the tasks you’re asked to complete. And dress appropriately. Both you and your company will benefit from your efforts.