Professionalism in the workplace: A guide for effective workplace etiquette

professionalism in the workplace

It’s often experience that helps a professional get their foot in the door at a new job. But it takes more than skill alone to be truly impactful at most organizations. Companies across numerous industries are looking for candidates who are tactful, communicative, reliable and generally pleasant to work with — they’re looking for professional behavior in the workplace.

The way you appear and behave in an employment setting can send a number of different messages to hiring managers and colleagues. In fact, employees who demonstrate professionalism in the workplace are often perceived to be more competent and valuable. It’s also important to recognize that nearly every individual can work to improve their workplace etiquette. 

Join us as we explore the importance of professionalism in the workplace and outline some expert advice for how to be professional in your own career endeavors.

Why is professionalism important?

In the working world, your professionalism encompasses the way you carry yourself, your attitude and the ways you communicate with others. Being professional can ensure a positive first impression, successful interpersonal relationships and a lasting reputation within your organization and industry, according to Katy Curameng, director of career planning and development at UMass Global. She goes on to say:


Whether you’re preparing for an interview, starting your first day on the job or advancing in your career, professionalism and workplace etiquette are always important. Regardless of overall performance, careers have been known to stall (or even fail to start) because an individual did not display these qualities.

Generally speaking, etiquette centers on respect. In an office environment, it’s important to be thoughtful when it comes to your interactions, acknowledging other people’s time and how you treat your workspace. Workplace etiquette is important because it ensures that your presence won’t be a burden on anyone else’s work experience.

According to U.S. Department of Labor, there are few things employers value more than employees who fulfill their duties in a professional manner. In fact, employees with a high degree of professionalism are frequently perceived as being more credible and reliable than their coworkers. Mastering this skill can also give young workers an edge as they begin their careers. In the most generationally diverse workforce we’ve ever experienced, workplace professionalism transcends age.

But professionalism isn’t just one trait — it’s a combination of a few different qualities. That might seem confusing, but consider the following five ways you can demonstrate workplace etiquette within your organization.

5 Tips for proper workplace etiquette

What is professionalism in the workplace and how can you improve yours? Consider the following expert advice. Embodying these qualities can have a profound impact on your career. 

1. Honor your commitments

With a topic as expansive as workplace professionalism, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to your own habits and practices. Curameng says that following through with your commitments can be pivotal.


You can meet every other facet of professionalism, but if you don’t honor your commitments and get your job done, none of it will matter.

If you are continually accountable for your assignments and other commitments, it will show that you’re a responsible person who can do what needs to be done to accomplish a goal. In addition to meeting deadlines, you should aim to be on time to start your day, to meetings and to any other work-related events, whether in person or virtual.

“Being on time sends an unspoken message of respect for your responsibilities, as well as the value you place on the time and effort of your colleagues,” Curameng adds.

2. Be attentive, responsive and proactive

It may sound simple, but one of the most effective ways to display professionalism at work is to show that you’re invested enough to pay attention. This might mean taking notes during meetings, asking relevant questions or even just using responsive body language. Curameng maintains that if you don’t follow these basics of office etiquette, you may appear bored, distant or aloof. That could send a message to those around you that you don’t value what’s being shared.

Another way to show your investment in and commitment to your organization is by being proactive about improving the company. But that requires doing more than just identifying concerns or pain points. Make sure to pair your complaints with solutions. Instead of simply bringing a problem to your manager, come armed with a proposed resolution.

3. Get to know the workplace culture

The general work culture will often change from company to company. That’s why it’s important to learn as much as you can about the cultural norms whenever you start a new position. Determining the right workplace attire is a good example.

“For cues on office-appropriate dress, pay attention to how others in your workplace dress,” Curameng suggests. “Although conventional wisdom may tell you to wear a certain type of clothing, you really need to look around in order to follow company culture.”

This can also impact your communication habits, as standard practices can vary. In some offices, it’s common to just send a quick email or arrange an impromptu video chat to discuss something. Other environments may require formally requesting a meeting via an administrative assistant.

“Once learned, these cues and others will reflect the unofficial rules of your organization and help you to navigate to success,” Curameng adds.

4. Keep personal matters to a minimum

Because the overall goal of workplace etiquette is to be respectful of your organization and your coworkers, you’ll want to avoid things that might interfere with anyone’s productivity.

“Whether you’re in an office, cubicle or open space, it is important to mind the personal space and time of others,” Curameng explains. “A ‘quick’ conversation about the movie you saw last night could turn into 15 to 30 minutes, which is not a productive use of time for you or your colleagues. Catch up on last night’s game or your weekend plans at lunch time or after work.”

It’s also helpful to remember that personal business doesn’t just include phone calls or conversations about your life outside of work. These days, it’s easier than ever to take a quick break by whipping out your phone to peruse social media. But what you intended to be a five-minute distraction can quickly turn into 20 minutes of wasted time.

Some companies have specific policies around social media for this very reason. If yours does, be sure you know what they are and adhere to them. Even if there isn’t an official policy in place, Curameng maintains that it’s important to think before you post, Tweet or comment at work or about work.

Never post or comment negatively about your job, boss or coworkers,” she says. “Those words could find their way back to someone within the company and may put your job in jeopardy.”

5. Avoid the negative side of office politics

It’s true that office politics can be unavoidable. At times, it’s a necessary part of climbing the corporate ladder. The truth is, you’re already part of your organization’s political landscape simply by being an employee. But it’s possible to stay on the positive side of things in the following ways:

  • Find common ground with your colleagues
  • Don’t try to make others look bad
  • Be mindful of your place in the larger company structure
  • Prioritize company success over personal ‘wins’

Politics can have a positive outcome when coworkers build up and work alongside those in their workplace community. But the political climate in an office can turn negative when colleagues are in competition with one another, rather than working together for the greater good.

“When you do encounter negative gossip, don’t participate in the conversation,” Curameng urges.

Build a career rooted in professionalism

Success looks different for everyone, but employing workplace etiquette can get you far regardless of your ultimate goal. If you honor your work commitments and remain dedicated, productive and respectful of those around you, building a respectable reputation within your organization will happen naturally.

As you continue to progress in your career, you may find yourself eager to climb the ladder within your organization. There are a number of things you can do in addition to practicing proper workplace professionalism. Learn more about how to advance by reading our article about the 8 things you should do before asking for a promotion.”

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