6 Steps to Professionalism in the Workplace (So People Don’t Hate You)
Your first day at your first job is bound to be, at the very least, exciting. At the most, it could be a throwback to the days when your pimply-faced, overweight, 14 year-old self walked into the lunch room as a measly freshman and had to sit in the corner with the band geeks. However, you’re probably bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to take on whatever the corporate world can throw at you. Except that often there is one crucial part to your job search that was left out of your career services department at university: Professionalism in the workplace.
You might think to yourself at this point that professionalism in the workplace is really just common sense, and as long as you don’t treat people like a giant sack of excrement that you should be ok. Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that making people not hate you at work is way different then making people not hate you at school. Todays “6 Steps to Professionalism in the Workplace” are as follows:
- ALWAYS Smile
- Dress The Part
- Never Burn a Bridge
- A Little Goes a Long Way
- Peoples’ Time Is Valuable
- Maintain “Professional Distance”
Before we get started, I wanted to sit down and have a little chat with you around these 6 steps. Come here and have a seat. Comfy? Good. Now, there is no law saying that you have to follow the advice on this blog. There should be a law, yes, and I’m writing to my local representatives to remedy that, but for the time being you’re off the hook. And you might even be able to live a decent life by not using a Roth IRA or by using debt the way Kim Kardashian uses nudity. But you simply MUST follow these rules if you are ever going to keep a job, and the reason is simple: no one is going to want to be around you if you don’t maintain at least a minimum level of professionalism, and when you’ve pissed off enough people, management will take action (and it won’t be a promotion for you). So for your sake, take these steps to heart, as they absolutely will help you in the long run.
This is such an easy one that so many people miss! I know that in general people like to make jokes about not liking being at work, and wanting to be doing something else like playing football, barbecuing, doing housework, or sticking hot forks in their eyes, but for the most part you should try to find a job that makes you at least somewhat happy. And if you’re stuck in a job that you really just absolutely despise, then find at least one good thing about the job, and smile about that! At the very least, you’re making money, which is better than staying at home catching up on “Orange is the New Black”.
You should always start your day by greeting those around your office/cubicle area with a “Good Morning” and a smile. And here’s the psychological hack: there are lots of wonderful benefits to smiling. And what I’ve noticed during countless social interactions is that when you smile at someone, they more than likely will smile back. In fact, I can’t think of a time that I’ve smiled at someone during conversation and they haven’t reciprocated.
So strut into that office and smile at everyone you talk to. You’ll release endorphins, your co-workers will release endorphins, and you won’t be labelled as that “asshole new guy/gal”. Good for you, boo boo.
Dress The Part
This is another one that’s super easy to take care of, but not done enough. Very simply put, when you’re new to a job, part of maintaining professionalism in the workplace is not looking like a complete fucking slob. That being said, some workplaces are a little bit more relaxed than others when it comes to dress code, but here are the two rules to live by:
- Never be the worst-dressed person in the room.
- Try not to be the best dressed person in the room.
- If you’re not sure if you should wear it, then don’t.
Way back when I was in college we had a student who got round two for an investment banking interview. This was a very big deal as investment banks really didn’t recruit much at my university, so a lot was riding on this kid. So, naturally, the dumbass shows up with dirty shoes and no tie. To a fucking interview. To a job where he would have cleared 6 figures his first year out of school. Obviously the school was pissed (as were other students looking to break into ib) and he never lived it down. Oh, and he didn’t get the job.
Ladies, this goes for you too. Work is not your sororities formal. It’s not a Thirsty Thursday, and it’s not a first date with that cute guy from Tinder. It’s work. And if you want to be taken seriously, dress like you want to be taken seriously. If you walk in with a short skirt or a low-cut blouse, I guarantee that people are going to spend more time thinking about what you’re wearing than what comes out of your mouth. Ain’t no one wanna see your coochie or your ta-ta’s while they’re trying to make the deadline for those reports. Oh, and easy on the makeup. I worked with a woman who caked it on so much I thought she was part of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Again, super distracting, and if she had spent a little less time on her makeup and more time on the shit she needed to get done, then maybe she wouldn’t have been labeled as a joke.
All that being said, there is such a thing as “too much.” If you’re a lucky duck and you work at a company that allows for T-shirts and jeans on Friday, then just wear the freaking T-shirt and jeans. You may get noticed by your boss if you’re overdressed, but you can be sure your co-workers will notice you, and they will not be impressed by the new kid who had to wear a suit but doesn’t know how to use the copier. Nice one. Douche.
Finally, perfumes/cologne. I get it, you want to smell fresh. But if you’re showing up to the office at 8 am, I shouldn’t smell you at 7:30. Also, you don’t need to reapply every hour. You want to be noticed by how intense you work, not how intense you reek. Take it easy on the stuff, and if you start inducing asthma at your job, I promise you your list of friends at work will go down dramatically.
Never Burn a Bridge
I must admit, this was a hard one for me to learn. Trust me when I say this, it never, and I do mean never benefits you when you burn a bridge. You might think that acting tough and telling off your boss might make him/her respect you more, or maybe you’ve watched too much “Jersey Shore” and you think that telling people “how it is” and “speaking your mind” are for some reason desirable traits. Newsflash: they’re not. No one wants to be around someone who’s a complete dick, and no one especially wants to have someone like that as an employee. Here’s why you don’t want to completely ruin relationships with your co-workers or bosses:
- You have no idea if you’ll need them for a recommendation.
- You have no idea where they’ll end up, professionally. Just because they work there now doesn’t mean they’ll work there forever, and they might just meet you at a different company later in life.
- You have no idea how tight they are with the other people in the office, and your newfound shitty reputation will spread faster than a Californian wildfire.
There is definitely a right and a wrong way to go about telling someone at work that you think they’re wrong, that you don’t like their idea, or that you think your way is the best. There is this sense in our generation that it’s somehow “cool” or “respectable” to tell people exactly what you think about them with absolutely no tact or regard for professionalism in the workplace. Frankly, that’s just a 1-way ticket to assholeville, population you.
A Little Goes a Long Way
This is a huge concept that plays out in two ways when you start your first job. Either you’ll do someone a very small favor and it will reap huge benefits, or you will barely cross the line with someone and it will be to your detriment.
Example #1: Your boss asks you to pull some data from a database so she can review it and apply it to a speech she’ll be giving at a conference. Instead of just pulling the information and sending it her way, you decide to dig a little deeper, and pull out some insights that you think she might be able to use. Then you write a couple paragraphs based on the insights you’ve found.
Most managers will love this, for a couple reasons. One, it shows them that you’ve got some amount of initiative, which is useful in employees. Two, it shows that you’re aware of what’s going on outside your cubicle/desk. And three, it saves them time. Overall, this was a smart move.
Example #2: Your manager asks you to run some accounting reports for an ad campaign you recently helped run as a member of the marketing team. You proceed to email the accounting department and tell them to run the reports, as you are not in that department and that’s not your job. Your manager then gets the reports late because instead of you running them, he had to wait on the accounting department to send them to you to send them to him.
This would drive any good manager bonkers. No manager is going to want to hear, “That’s not in my job description” especially from some new employee. You’ve now wasted your manager’s time, and the accounting departments time. Not to mention you’ve now sent the signal to accounting that your time is more important than theirs. They then complain to your manager about your stupid ego, and your boss has to waste another 15 minutes explaining what professionalism in the workplace looks like at your company. Too bad you didn’t take this post seriously….
Peoples Time is Valuable
There is one finite resource that exists in the world, and it’s one that becomes more valuable the older you get. It also is pretty much impossible to make more of it. It’s time. And while you might be a young 23 year-old whipper snapper, most of the people where you’re working will not be. These are people who have deadlines that are more important than yours, who have families, mortgages, and various other obligations outside of work.
I promise you that if you’re someone who can save other people’s’ time, you will quickly become one of the most popular people at work. If you’re the employee that turns a 30 second question into a prolonged discussion on the meaning of life, you will lose friends quick. I worked with a woman who would literally talk my ear off every morning, anywhere between 20-45 minutes. Every goddamn morning. With stupid updates on her life that were boring af. Most people don’t care that your “check engine” light came on or that your 4 year-old refuses to eat his vegetables. STFU and let me get back to work.
There are lots of ways that newbies to the workplace waste people’s time.
- Overuse of manners – God, just spit it out already. There is nothing more annoying than a three paragraph email from someone when all they need is for me to sign a piece of paper and send it back. No one wants to spend 5 minutes reading an email from some kid straight out of college. Be kind and polite, but don’t waste time getting to a point.
- Not offering to help – This is a biggy. When you ask someone to do something, at the very least offer up a way that you can help them if need be. Otherwise, it comes off as some baby-faced kid bossing people around. There’s a huge difference between, “I need that file by 4 pm” and, ” I need that file by 4 pm; let me know how I can support.”
- Not using the right method of communication – The right method of communication can make everyone’s lives a whole lot easier. Email should be used when you don’t need an immediate answer, you need the communication documented, or you don’t want to interrupt whatever the person is doing. Texts should be sent when you need an answer ASAP, but you don’t want to interrupt whatever the person is doing. Phone calls should be when you need a fast answer (Yes, No, We’ll talk about it when I get back to the office), you don’t mind interrupting whatever it is the person it doing, and you don’t necessarily need documentation. I know phone calls are tough for millennials, but at some point we’re going to have to get over it and learn how to dial numbers.
Maintain “Professional Distance”
I mean this both in a literal, physical sense and in a social sense. Professionalism in the workplace can be maintained or enhanced by making sure you give people enough “room”. Allow me to explain:
Maintaining Physical Distance – Unless you’re working somewhere in Europe or Asia where the “personal space” rule gets shrunk, don’t crowd people s space. If it’s never happened to you, it’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience, and it’s hard to react to without being obvious. And for God’s sake, don’t touch someone unless you’re absolutely sure that you’re on that level. I worked with a girl who would complain daily that one of the older women we worked with would grab her arm every time she had a question. Handshakes, pats on the back, maybe even fist bumps (depending on culture) all can be acceptable. Grabbing anything, prolonged contact, or anything that you might think is awkward just avoid. People will like you better for it, I promise.
Maintaining Social Distance – There are a couple of really simple rules.
- Don’t use your bosses first name unless they explicitly tell you that you can.
- Don’t use profanity or racially charged language. You never know whose grandfather was black, jewish, asian, white, muslim, etc. Just don’t risk it.
- PRS – Politics, religion, and sex. If you want to alienate someone, give your opinions on this. Otherwise, I’d give it at least 6 months before you even circle around these topics.
- Assume that everyone can see what you put on social media all the time. I know you think your shit is in private. There are people smarter than you that can see what your posting. So yeah, don’t post pictures of yourself in a drunken stupor or dancing on a pole or videos screaming expletives about your company. Not cool.
- I shouldn’t have to say this, but manners are still important y’all. Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome, Ma’am, Sir, are still some pretty great words; don’t forget to use them.
Professionalism in the Workplace – The Wrap Up
Again, you’d think that a lot of this would be just simple common sense. And yet there are still plenty of college grads out there that need to know these basics. Again, the ways to maintain and sustain professionalism in the workplace are as follows:
- ALWAYS Smile
- Dress The Part
- Never Burn a Bridge
- A Little Goes a Long Way
- Peoples Time Is Valuable
- Maintain “Professional Distance”
What’s your worst “professionalism in the workplace” story? Comment below, let loose on some of those horror stories, then send them this article 🙂 !
Keep trying to crack the code,