In this lesson, we will discuss how professionalism is judged in the business world and who or what determines the definition of professionalism in the workplace.
While it is nice to think that you can let your freak flag fly in this day and age, in the workplace, it is a different story. You are judged from the moment you walk in the door. You are even observed during your personal time, through your social media and interactions with colleagues outside of work.
Being professional is an expectation that employers set for their employees and ultimately, they are the ones who identify the standards that employees are expected to follow.
Professionalism is subjective in nature. It means different things to different people, and therefore, it is judged in that same manner. In the business world, employers define professionalism. They look at several different characteristics that they think make up a professional person, such as:
- Attitude: are you a positive person who is willing to take on responsibility?
- Competence: can you do your job successfully?
- Appearance: are you dressed for success within your company's standards?
- Ability to communicate: when you speak or write, are you using correct grammar and punctuation and are your thoughts easy to follow?
- Appropriateness: do you keep your language and behavior appropriate in the workplace?
Expectations and Standards
Employers set the expectations and standards of professionalism, and it is an employee's job to fit the mold. Defining what professionalism looks like is important for employers to do because it gives employees a guide to follow. It also ensures that a company is consistent in the message it is sending to its workers and that customers are experiencing the same level of professionalism across the board. Let's take a look at a quick example.
New business ABC Insurance has just hired its first set of employees. However, the company did not take the time to set the expectations and standards of professionalism desired from its employees. The first day of orientation is here, and the ten new hires start to filter in. They could not be more different from each other. Not only do their appearances vary, ranging from one man wearing a crisp suit and carrying a briefcase to another man wearing jeans and a polo shirt, but their new attitudes and ideas about appropriate behaviors are also vastly different. Some employees think it is appropriate to be on their phones throughout the orientation, while others find it appropriate to tell a dirty joke or use foul language. ABC Insurance's manager realizes that the workplace orientation does not have a section that discusses the professionalism policies of the company. How can this company expect its employees to know what is and isn't appropriate if it doesn't communicate these expectations to them?
Remember, professionalism is subjective. While one employee thinks wearing a suit is professional, another employee might think that dressing up his jeans with a dress shirt and loafers is professional. It may be that neither employee's ideas match what the employer is looking for. Perhaps the employer prefers that employees wear a dress shirt and slacks, but ties are optional. A dress code is one example of the many different aspects of professionalism.
Realizing that people are not mind readers and that they often need a definite policy to explain what's expected of them in the workplace will be extremely helpful in setting your business up for success.
Cultural and Situational
Professionalism can also be affected by different situations and influenced by culture. You can find different interpretations of professionalism in any workplace because of diversity among employees. Employers should consider generational and educational gaps, as well as differences in ethnicity and personal background.
For example, ABC Insurance is interested in expanding their company's social media and they have brought on a group of Millennials to boost their presence online. A lot of the sales staff, a group made up of older Generation Y employees and Baby Boomers, are having a difficult time identifying with these new employees. They feel that they don't get the big picture and are too idealistic with their goals. Each of these groups may view professionalism differently. ABC Insurance deals with these generational gaps by viewing potential issues as opportunities. This company uses each generation's strengths to bridge the gap between younger and older employees and help them work together.
Examples of diversity in the workplace can range from minor differences, such as differing views on how to prioritize tasks, to more complicated differences, such as language barriers and dealing with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Differences will always exist, which is why it is imperative for the employer to establish a foundation of professionalism for employees to build upon.
Professionalism is very subjective and means something different to each person and how they navigate defining what kind of professional they are. Companies have the ability to set the expectations and standards they want to see from their employees. They set these parameters by considering characteristics that are important to them, such as attitude, competence, appearance, ability to communicate, and appropriateness and then explaining how they want employees to embody each of these characteristics.