Expect Professionalism

shutterstock_193702910-girl sticking out tongueHave you ever thought, “I wish this employee would be more professional?” We are all trying to establish a certain level of professionalism in the work environment, but what does that really mean?

In a recent strategy meeting to define employee performance expectations, one manager said he expected his employees to be professional, and he wanted to raise the level of professionalism on the team.  When asked what professionalism meant to him, he gave us a blank stare. Then he said, “Well you know what I mean…”

The team agreed they wanted to create a more professional work environment but everyone had a different definition of the concept.

Professionalism means different things to different people. Here is how the manager’s teammates answered the question of how to define professionalism:

  • Following the dress code
  • Interacting positively with customers
  • Using complete sentences in emails
  • Offering to help a teammate
  • Keeping commitments
  • Having specialized knowledge and skills
  • Getting the job done

The word “professional” is a tricky expectation. The Oxford Dictionary defines professionalism as, “The competence or skill expected of a professional.” It’s one of those words that is defined within itself. That’s not very helpful when you are trying to use it to convey your performance expectations in the workplace.

The next time you find yourself telling employees you expect them to be “professional,” stop yourself and ask what does that really mean? Instead of using the broad, vague term of “professional,” define your expectations with the behaviors you expect.

Some organizations have gone so far as to define the term in the context of their work. FIRST, an organization dedicated to developing science and technology leaders defines it as, “a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.” Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College says, “a professional is courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike in his/her workplace.” Praxair, a leading industrial gas company, lists valuing diversity and staying focused in their description of professionalism.

Professionalism in your work environment will be defined uniquely. Professionalism for an accountant will be defined differently than for a mechanic or for a police officer. It’s up to you to help employees share a common definition.

Here’s an idea: pose the question during a staff meeting to see how your employees define professionalism. Until you and your staff share an expectation of how professionalism is defined in your workplace, you can’t expect employees to behave in a professional way.

There is no arguing that you should expect professionalism from everyone in your organization. The challenge is to express your expectations clearly by taking a deeper dive into the meaning of the word.

What does professionalism mean to you?



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