The Characteristics of
Workplace Professionalism

Young Professionals

While workplace environments have changed in recent years, workplace professionalism remains standard.

Technology makes it possible for you to work in different locations, with a variety of people, virtually or in person.  While it may seem that flexibility is a requirement for handling this work style, effective communication and mindfulness are probably even more important here.  For it is these characteristics that help you shine as a professional.  

And make no mistake - your professionalism will be noticed.  Especially if it is lacking!

Take a look at the following aspects that make up workplace professionalism.  Which ones are easy for you?  At which do you excel?  In what areas do you need improvement?

Workplace Professionalism Guidelines

Meeting and Greeting at Work

  • Greet co-workers when you arrive at work.  A smile and a "Good morning" can start the day off right.
  • Be proactive with introductions.
  • Extend a handshake and offer a friendly greeting.    
  • Smile and maintain eye contact to convey your welcome.
  • Stand up and welcome people who come into your place of work or seek a conversation with you.
  • Re-introductions are often helpful (just in case someone is struggling to remember a name).
  • Keep conversations short if you have work to do and be friendly if you need to set up a better time to talk. 
  • When a guest leaves, show him or her out of your office or building if possible.  This is a courtesy that makes you unforgettable.

Addressing Others Properly During Introductions

  • Always state your first and last name when introducing yourself.
  • If someone enters your office and introduces himself as Bill Smith, say, “Come in, Mr. Smith.”  Formality shows respect.
  • Introductions are hierarchical in business: A VIP’s name is spoken first.
  • Unless the person addressed invites you to do otherwise, continue to address him/her formally. 
  • If you are invited to be informal, do what is comfortable for you.  No one is required to use a person’s first name.
  • When in doubt, keep it formal.

Business Lunch/Dinner Meetings

  • Punctuality is a golden rule!
  • Keep personal items off of the table.
  • The person who invites, pays the tab.
  • It’s about business, not the the food. 
  • Order items that are easy to eat.    
  • Really hungry?  Eat ahead of time.
  • Match your lunch/dinner partners course for course.  Your host orders an appetizer?  Choose one, too.
  • Alcohol is not the best option at lunch and never during an interview.  If the host or your guest orders a drink, order a non-alcoholic beverage for yourself.
  • If you arrive early, wait for others unless instructed to meet at the table.
  • Place your napkin on your lap as soon as everyone else places theirs — unless the host hasn’t placed hers yet.
  • Familiarize yourself with the menu ahead of time so you don't take up too much time ordering. 
  • Enjoy a little small talk first before diving into business conversation. 
  • Pace your eating.  When the host places his napkin on the table to end the meal, follow suit.
  • No doggie bags!
  • Avoid bad news, unpleasant topics, or overly personal anecdotes.
  • Remember your table manners!
  • Be kind and respectful to the wait staff.  Always.

Email Communication

  • Make sure the subject line clearly summarizes the included message.
  • Think of your email as a business letter.   
  • Be more formal than less, especially if you don't know the recipient very well.
  • Imagine yourself on the receiving end of your message.
  • Use complete sentences.  And double-check your spelling and grammar!
  • Stick to the subject at hand.  One "big idea" per email is best. 
  • Be literal.  Avoid humor (it doesn't always translate well in written communications). 
  • Remember: anything can be forwarded.  
  • Email during business hours taking note of time zone differences. 
  • Re-read your communication before sending.  Doubts?  Wait before sending.
  • Switch your mindset from texting to emailing and visa versa.
  • Sign off properly.  If your company has a standard email signature, be sure and include it.

Text Messaging

  • In business, texts are strictly informational.
  • Brevity is required.
  • Punctuate correctly.  This is business and workplace professionalism should remain intact.
  • Do not text a person unless given permission.
  • Be aware of the tone of your message. (Danger zone)
  • Be wary of auto-correct!
  • Skip shortcut abbreviations.
  • Do not text at meetings, during presentations, or under the table.
  • Stay off of your device unless it is work-related.
  • Do not send a text when emotions are running high.
  • Avoid big announcements when texting.  These are best delivered in person or via phone call.

Conversations at Work

  • Conversations are primarily work-related.
  • It's great to be friendly, but avoid too much idle talk.
  • Avoid partisan talk of politics.  
  • Avoid negativity or compromising your trustworthiness.
  • Avoid gossip and flirtatious or suggestive behavior.
  • Friendliness trumps friendship in the workplace.
  • Be mindful of your coworkers' work spaces.  Only enter when invited and leave them as you find them.
  • Be prepared for meetings. Listen carefully. When disagreement arises, remain calm. 
  • If the subject needs to be changed, helpful one liners are:
    “That may be, but…”
    “I understand, however…”
    “I see your point, and…”

The Basics of Professional Dress

  • Follow the dress code.  If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.
  • Maintain a professional presence, even if you don’t wear a suit.
  • Always be clean, neat, and tucked in.
  • Be mindful of your shoes: are they clean, polished, and in good condition? 
  • Err on the side of conservative.
  • Ask someone you respect at work for any “check me on this” questions.

Putting It All Together

As you can see from the lists above, there are many elements that make up workplace professionalism.  As I suggested at the beginning, check off the things that you know instinctively and begin working on the things that you need to learn.  Once you notice your natural behavior, changing it to a learned behavior becomes easier.  I know you can do it!

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.  
~ Ray Kroc

You may also enjoy reading . . .