How to boost your professionalism at work

Most workplaces have changed substantially in the last four years.

Some of the more obvious changes can be attributed to the global pandemic and rise in remote work. Other changes are signs of evolving cultural shifts, ushered in by younger generations playing a more significant role in the workforce. Being able to wear jeans, hoodies, and sneakers to the office may be appreciated by employees of all ages but should not be mistaken for relaxing the need for professionalism at work.

Traditionally, an individual’s professional behavior (especially in corporate environments) was referred to as executive presence. Although the term is still used today, I think “professionalism” is more inclusive and applies widely across industries and organizational levels.

An entry-level employee in the hospitality industry can benefit from improvements to their professional behavior just as much as a seasoned manager in a consulting firm. There is no one-size-fits-all to achieve professionalism; there’s plenty of room to be true to your authentic self.

Where to start? If you’re currently employed, you probably have abundant examples to be imitated (or avoided) all around you. Start by being an observer in your workplace and trying different techniques and practices on for size. If you’re lucky, you have a boss, co-worker, or mentor who will be willing to provide concrete advice on boosting your professionalism.

Some of my own suggestions include:

• Appearance: When meeting virtually, remember to dress for the occasion. Be mindful of your background, lighting, eye contact, and posture. In person, consider the nature of your work and your organization’s dress code before deciding what to wear. The old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have still applies.

• Communication: In both written and spoken word, be clear, concise, and confident. To maximize effectiveness, carefully chose the best medium (in-person, phone, email, text) for the message you’re trying to convey. Actively seek feedback by asking a colleague to edit your writing, or even by reviewing recordings of your own voice and presentations.

• Poise: How do you handle stress? If you’re likely to blow your top, blame others, or fall apart, this is an area you should work on. Savvy professionals exhibit a high degree of emotional intelligence, allowing them to respond appropriately in tough situations. The ability to remain calm under pressure sets professionals apart and is a critical leadership skill.

Remember, professionalism isn’t a singular skill that anyone is born with. It’s composed of many different skills, which can be learned over time with varying degrees of effort.

Sure, some people have been exposed to helpful examples of professional behavior earlier in life. And there are certain industries and workplaces that have strict dress codes, guidelines, policies, and codes of conduct that require employees to comply or face unpleasant consequences.

But in most organizations, there are abundant ways to exhibit professionalism in your own unique style that will allow you to be accepted, respected, and valued by your employer and colleagues. Could your professionalism use a boost? Make 2024 the year to take it up a notch.

• Mary Lynn Fayoumi is president & CEO of HR Source.

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