Why is it that you wear formals and speak in a sophisticated manner when you go for a job interview? You basically try to present yourself in a way that makes you feel, look and be professional. David H. Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor and writer of business management practices, talks about professionalism in his book, True Professionalism that “professionalism is not a label you give yourself—it’s a description you hope others will apply to you”.

When companies state that they’re looking to hire candidates who are communicative, reliable, tactful and pleasant to work with, they’re searching for professionalism. Employees who demonstrate professionalism are considered valuable by their organizations. 

So, what is professionalism and how do we develop a professional attitude? Let’s find out.

What Is Professionalism?

For some, being professional is the way in which they carry themselves or their workplace conduct. For others, professionalism means being competent and reliable. Professionalism encompasses all these definitions and much more.

In simple terms, professionalism means the conduct, behavior and attitude of someone in a work setting or business environment. It’s a component of work ethics that’s reflective of an individual’s consideration of others. It leads to lasting professional relationships, a strong professional reputation and workplace success.

Importance Of Professionalism

Professionalism at work is most important and is a key component for a successful career. Organizations emphasize the need for professionalism because lasting relationships and fruitful interactions with customers or clients help meeting company objectives and goals. Even internally, managers who display professionalism or professional behavior set appropriate examples of work ethics and workplace conduct for their co-workers and employees.

Here are a few factors that highlight the need for professionalism at work and in life:

  1. Establishes Appropriate Boundaries:

It’s important to establish appropriate boundaries at the workplace. Professionalism at work helps to keep business and personal lives separate. Professionalism further highlights what is considered to be appropriate workplace behavior and what’s not. Employees who conduct themselves professionally will be able to avoid crossing boundaries in interactions or conversations with fellow employees.

  1. Encourages Personal Improvement:

Professional growth is all about gaining new experience and developing new skills. On the other hand, personal development is a process of assessing those skills and knowledge and using them to set goals in life, besides maximizing your potential. Professionalism helps in personal growth, which in turn enhances professional development. Additionally, professional work settings encourage professional behavior and appropriate workplace conduct. 

  1. Promotes Accountability: 

Professionalism helps to bring and maintain accountability in your work. For example, if you send an email in addition to oral confirmation of a project, you’re holding yourself responsible for the project. This will reflect your commitment towards the project, its goals and deadlines. This will also help establish trust with your client or customers. 

  1. Boosts Respect:

Taking the high road isn’t always easy, especially when someone else behaves inappropriately or crosses a line. Professionalism is a reminder of how you can separate your personal feelings from your professional behavior. Professionalism at work establishes respect for even those who show disrespect. 

  1. Minimizes Conflict: 

Workplaces have both healthy and unhealthy conflicts. Professionalism helps to manage and limit unhealthy conflicts such as the ones that lead to inappropriate conduct. Professional behavior helps establish healthy boundaries and keeps personal feelings in check. This especially benefits diverse business environments, with varying opinions and viewpoints. Professionalism also helps in organizing teamwork.

Characteristics Of Professionalism

Professionalism shows us that there’s more to work than just meeting targets. It helps create a path for continuous improvement. Harappa Education’s course on Practicing Excellence will teach you how to identify and work towards self-improvement. The Four Selfs of Excellence framework will help you learn the aspects of presenting your best professional self at work. You’ll learn the benefits of working ethically and treating everybody with respect at the workplace.

Any professional possesses several essential characteristics that are applicable to any type of business. 

Here are some ways to develop the core characteristics of professionalism for work environments: 

  1. Be Productive:

It’s easy to get distracted at work. You may get pulled into unproductive habits like checking your phone or browsing the internet repetitively. One way of being professional is to draw strict boundaries between personal time and work hours. Take sufficient breaks and don’t let any distractions affect your productivity when you’re on the clock.

  1. Maintain A Professional Image:

A professional presence is a good way to display your professionalism at work. In other words, it helps when you dress and groom appropriately and show up on time. Employees help create the image of an organization. It’s a good rule of thumb to dress appropriately. Client meetings are ideal examples of occasions where you can dress to impress.

  1. Take Initiative: 

Organizations are often on the lookout for employees who can take initiative. It’s because such employees reflect their willingness to commit and be responsible. You can impress your managers by being proactive and taking initiative. It’s a good idea to fully utilize your potential by shouldering responsibilities whenever you can. 

  1. Maintain Effective Work Habits:

You can’t excel at being professional if you are unable to develop it as a habit. You’re better able to prioritize goals and plan and manage projects when you’re being professional throughout the course of your work. Follow up with your team manager or leaders in order to receive constructive feedback and effectively track your progress.

  1. Manage Your Time:

If you aren’t careful about utilizing your time in the best possible way, you will miss deadlines and tasks. Professional attitude entails prioritization and planning targets. You can meet your deadlines more efficiently when you establish priorities at work.

  1. Demonstrate Integrity: 

Everybody makes mistakes at work. However, owning up to that mistake and holding yourself accountable is one of the core characteristics of professionalism. By taking responsibility for your actions, you demonstrate integrity and emotional maturity. Workplaces have high regard for those who’re willing to address, accept and work on their mistakes.

  1. Be a Problem-Solver:

When faced with obstacles or problems, it’s always better to address them immediately. When you run into problems, take your time to identify the best possible ways of solving them before you take it up with your manager. Communicate with your co-workers or teammates, if required, and brainstorm a few ideas for approaching the problem.

  1. Communicate Effectively: 

Communication is often called the bridge between confusion and clarity. It’s a fruitful exercise to develop communication skills. Whether it’s online or interpersonal communication, keep practicing and developing ways of speaking effectively. Let your words have an impact on your audience, and convey your thoughts in a well-structured and compelling manner.

  1. Build Relationships: 

In addition to communication, professionalism also entails networking and building lasting relationships. You can always reach out for mutually-beneficial business opportunities when you have reliable networks of people. You can collaborate effectively, contribute more proactively during teamwork and build cordial professional networks wherever you go.

  1. Develop Self-Awareness:

One of the primary signs of professionalism is to be able to manage your emotions. Learning how to develop self-awareness can help you identify emotional triggers so that you can manage your reactions better. Moreover, when you get feedback, learn how to recognize and use the information. This’ll assist in your personal as well as your professional growth.

How To Exhibit Professionalism?

Now that we’ve established the characteristics of a model professional, let’s look at some of the ways to exhibit professionalism at work:

  • Listen actively and attentively when your customers or clients are speaking. Ask questions whenever necessary and observe the little details. If you can sense others’ emotional needs, you can adjust your body language and tone accordingly.

  • Keep developing and working on your knowledge and skills. Modern organizations undergo frequent changes and it’s not easy to adapt to those changes unless you are prepared. Sign up for courses and workshops and learn new skills. Stay up-to-date with the changing industry standards.

  • Punctuality is another way of confirming one’s professional attitude. Turn up for important meetings on time, and be patient with others.

  • Workstations or online workspaces are a good way to judge professionalism in business environments. Customers especially appreciate when information is presented in an organized manner.

  • Make sure to have good phone and email etiquette. Express your emotions in the most effective manner when it comes to online communication. Speak respectfully when talking on the phone, even if the call isn’t relevant. Acknowledge your emails within 24 hours of receiving them. 


Professionalism isn’t necessarily a trait that some individuals have and others don’t. It’s a cultivated skill and we can master the art of being professional by embracing the characteristics of professionalism. Let’s practice excellence and exceed expectations!

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about topics related to the Lead habit such as Importance of Leadership, Performance Management, Career Development, Time Management, Work Ethic & Self-Motivation.

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