What does it mean to be a professional? Some say signs of a professional include standing up straight, looking the part, speaking with authority, or a firm hand shake. Although those are all behaviors and characteristics that can help you out in the workplace, professionalism is so much more than that.
A publication by Mindtools uses terms like honesty, integrity, competency, accountability, and self-regulation to describe a professional. Based on this and other research pertaining to the topic, we can conclude that all-in-all, a professional acts and speaks appropriately when appropriate.
The basic rules of acting right at work are usually not the one’s most workers have trouble abiding by. With all of the business ethics and professionalism courses in college, and all of the employee conduct forms and handbooks, basic expectations within a workplace have become somewhat clear.
The most common unprofessional workplace behaviors — those that so many workers are guilty of — are a bit more indirect than stealing or going pants-less to the office. Using publications on unprofessional behaviors by Field Law and Compete Outside the Box, coupled with supplemental information, we grouped these unprofessional workplace behaviors into 5 categories (which are in no particular order.) Are you guilty of at least one of these?
1. Talking about your wild and crazy night
So last night you went out and had the time of your life. You and a group of a dozen of your friends went out on the town, went to all the best bars and night clubs, and you met the most amazing girl (or guy.) You woke up at your friend’s house just in time for work, barely able to remember what happened for the latter half of the evening.
That’s your business. But it’s probably not something you should share with the rest of the office. Sure, it’s great to share some superfluous information about yourself with your colleagues — maybe tell them about your obsession with the TV show America’s Next Top Model. But talking about drinking or a crazy night out with co-workers may be asking for trouble, and it’s best to leave that out of the office.
2. Being Mr. or Ms. Defensive
In business, not every comment directed your way is going to be positive. Constructive criticism is vitally necessary for any office to run smoothly. Having too thin of a skin, and being unable to handle any type of criticism is unprofessional, but it’s often viewed more as a personality trait than a behavior. “Oh, Joe is just really sensitive about his work” or “Jane really does her best, but she gets upset when someone thinks her work is lacking.”
Why? Aside from the sheer fact that we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, Field Law discusses the changing dynamics of the healthcare system and an employee’s need to maintain a currency of professional knowledge. Although the publication refers specifically to the healthcare system, this would really apply in any business system. When employees don’t maintain knowledge in their field, we hear those “this is how we did it when I was trained 10 years ago” responses. Failure to maintain such current knowledge, or seek assistance where needed, may result in a level of insecurity or defensiveness on the part of an employee.
3. Being non-responsive
What do you do when you don’t like the contents of an email? What if it warrants a reply? Ignore it? Ignoring communications is yet another unprofessional behavior. Just about everyone is busy (not just you), and ignoring a problem will not make it go away.
If you make a commitment to a customer, subordinate, your boss, or a co-worker, do you keep that promise? Breaking promises or making promises that you cannot keep falls under this category as well. Be direct and straightforward.
No one is at 100 percent all of the time, and you’re going to have those days where you only have about 75 percent of your energy available for the day. However, the important thing is to give your best every day, no matter what, even if your best is a little tired on Mondays. “If you collect 100 percent of your paycheck, you owe 100 percent work effort,” reads a Compete Outside the Box publication.
Shamming is the act of intentionally avoiding work. Many people place more effort into shamming than they would have to place into simply doing their jobs correctly. For instance, say a cashier has to run back and forth between sitting down in the break room and his register every time a customer comes into the line. He makes 20 trips back and forth, just to get away from his line for a combined total of 12 minutes, while his boss is in the back of the store, unable to see that he’s “shamming.” If the cashier just stayed at his register, he could have placed much less effort into simply standing there waiting for customers.
5. He said, she said
Gossip is a notoriously problematic concern within the workplace. Jane and Joe were talking behind Sue’s back. “She’s so lazy, why did she get the promotion,” one coworker may say about another Or: “Did you hear his wife left him?” the office big mouth says to a group of workers. This type of behavior is not only unprofessional, it causes conflicts and deters collaborative efforts among teams.
Along the same lines, blaming others for your mistakes is also unprofessional. “I wanted to do it the right way, but Joe told me that it was supposed to be done this way.” Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions is a mark of a professional.