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How to Act Professionally at Work? Avoid Mistakes that Could Cost You Your Career

How-to-Act-Professionally-at-WorkActing professionally at work is an important part of any corporate or work environment.  It is also important for your professional and career growth.  Most executive managers agree: professional behavior and attitudes often play an important role in who gets hired and promoted, as well as in who gets fired or demoted.  If you want to have a successful career – you must know how to act professionally.

Many of us (so called “professionals”) often behave unprofessionally at work without even noticing it. Under certain circumstances this can have consequences.  For example, it is great to be super-friendly with your boss, joking around the office, playing practical jokes on your co-workers, etc. Your boss may even think that you are the coolest guy/gal they have ever met.  However, would they also think that you can be serious enough to handle an important task when it comes to that promotion you’ve been hoping for? Would they take you seriously? We have asked several professionals if they had to dismiss an employee, would they choose the one who lacks good work habits or the one who lacks appropriate jobs skills. Here is what some of them told us:

“I would dismiss the employee who lacks good work habits. I feel that it is much easier to teach job skills than work habit.”

“I would choose the person with bad work habit. One bad apple is all it needs to spoil them all.”

“I would ask the person to leave who has bad habits as I believe that job skills can be taught to people.”

So what can you do? Try observing your own behavior as you interact with your co-workers, your boss and your subordinates. Make sure that you are not guilty of any unprofessional habits and if you are, try adjusting your behavior.  Specifically, try to avoid the following mistakes that many employees often make:
  • Arguing or engaging in an open conflict with a co-worker. Disagreeing is Ok but do it respectfully and politely and don’t cross the line. Use good judgment and watch your manners.
  • Dressing “too casually”. If you come to work sloppily dressed your looks will portray an image of a disorganized and messy worker. Dress professionally, especially if you your boss is on a conservative side.
  • Making comments or jokes that could be offensive to others. Always avoid references to anyone’s personal characteristics such as nationality, race, gender, appearance or religious beliefs at work.
  • Raising your voice or acting on emotions.  If you’re an emotional person, try to take a break and calm down before an important conversation.  People often do and say things driven by a spur of the moment that they later regret.
  • Lying. Being deceitful or dishonest will tarnish your reputation for life if you get caught. It is just not worth it.
  • Acting superior to others, showing your own self-importance or judging others.  Professional behavior is never having a need to prove that you are superior to anyone else.
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Tags: relationships-at-work, at-work, professionalism, common-mistakes
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  • theresumechick

    Great advice. :-) Coming to work with a good attitude and demeanor can be infectious and promote productivity and positive team building among peers. These days it's just not enough to get the job done, but to get it done right the first time, within the deadline and within budget. Businesses that are still on top in this recession know this well, and build teams that can do just that. There is a proper forum to disagree (but never to argue or wage open conflict), and all grievances have to be aired out and addressed so the team can function normally and productively.

    Hope you don't mind if I share this with others. :-)

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter if you need me)

  • Ankush

    I agree with Christophe rMazza thans very much christ for valuable advice

  • Vidya Prasanna

    Totally agree with Chistopher Mazza's thoughts. To add to that, be yourself and do unto other what you would like to be done to you. Empathizing is the key!

  • Gay Ramos

    A habit is a series of action that happens repititively. It's a pattern of behavior. This of course can't be learned but developed due to previous experiences and trainings. On the other hand, job skills can be learned. Therefore, habit is harder to change as compared to job skills. The latter can be nurtured and developed. Habit usually depends on the working environment. If a person's personality doesn't fit to an organization, it'll be difficult for that person to adjust. In the end, both the management and employee will not be happy or succesful. That's the reason why there are series of interviews and examination during the hiring period. In a third world country, the workers really strive and work hard no matter whom they are working with. It's a cutthroat competition. For those who can chose the organisation where they can work in, be thankful.

  • Ricky

    Its extremely sad to see how people associate a person with a sense of humour in office to be "not serious" and "casual" in attitude. I would really never like to work in such organisations ever again. And if u ask me it is far easier to inform a person about their bad work habits than make a dunce learn new job skills.

  • Joseph T. Voicheck

    I reviewed all responses and, instead of providing one of my own, I find that I fully agree with those of Christopher Mazza's.
    Thank you Christopher!

  • Optimally, you should find a corporate culture that fits your personality. In situations where you are in a culture that doesn't match your personality and work habits, there are basically two approaches but the same result. The first is being true to yourself - a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. The second approach is pretending to be somebody you are not, which can't be sustained for very long. Either way, you won't be happy or successful and will probably quit or be shown the door.

    If you are fortunate enough to find a culture that fits the real you, the key is finding balance. Nobody likes the coworker that is always too serious, nor the coworker that is always joking around. Only focusing on your tasks and career will be considered selfish; conversely spending all your time schmoozing with everyone and not getting any work done will be frowned upon. My humble advice to be successful, respected, and also well-liked: be on time, dress appropriately, be honest, use your time efficiently, respect others and their time, achieve the expected results, show passion for your work, show a willingness to learn and volunteer for new tasks/projects, be friendly, and be a good team player.


    Christopher Mazza

  • Kapil Thukral

    I respect the people who are having good work habits and these people are liked more by the same group who are having the same characteristics. Because this shows your passion towards your KRA given and show that first you want to justify your given job with the sense of humor.

    Good Work habits is like coming out from your comfort zone which initially people don't like but after some time they realize that this for their good only. If they perform professionally they recognized professionally and get promoted faster.

  • Syed Khalil Khawer

    I think habits are much more important in work ethics as they depict having a sense of order and charachter.

  • I have personally seen colleagues get passed-over for promotions because of their workplace demeanor. In my industry, medical sales, it seems to be "in vogue" amongs medical device sales reps to by the life of the company when attending corporate meetings. I believe that their antics and bravado often sabotages their career.

  • Lori Nolasco

    In a book entitled _Fierce Conversations_, the author uses an orange as an example of how communication works: if you cut it open on your kitchen counter it will give off orange juice, and if you take it to work it will not suddenly leak tomato juice. Effective communication at work should be just as effective at home, since we do not have two distinct personalities. We simply adapt ourselves to the situation at hand. As far as professional behavior is concerned, one of my coworkers was fired for telling jokes that were offensive to women and for bringing too much of his personal life into work to the point that it kept others from concentrating on their jobs. It is never easy to strike that balance between a stable personal and professional life; in fact, it is an ongoing process, one "fierce conversation" at a time.

  • Ganesh

    The article and the view points are interesting. As a person who joined an and new to an organisation has lot of issues due to cultural issues, non-performers,people doesnt like the reporting pattern etc., The original point of the article is a normally view point about how the bosses look at their Newly recrutied Managerial subordinates. Organisations short term and long term results expected from a new joinee require certain type of work habits it could be aggressiveness,demanding work requirements etc., In this process the people with attitudes really be appreciative and easily gel but when there are people who doesnt perform or accept these situations, try to create trouble to his boss indirectly without him knowing. Organisations which strongly rely on feelers/informers from a few down the level people create issues. A person who had confidence and recruited the manager doesnt support the person due to such issues. It also depends on the traits of your bosses management style. How can you let down the person who you have recruited with hopes, wait and watch should be the approach. It is really agonising when you have to work under such situations. I had personally experienced such situations

  • Be yourself and be passionate.

    A lot of these "bad" habits come from defensive behaviour. I see a lot bad habits in senior managers, under pressure and nervous and they get protected. This article appears to be written from the point of view of managers looking down on the employees when nine times out of ten the problems are the managers. It seems the article really should be talking about managers talking about each other, not employees.

    In employees, I look for passion, head-screwed on the right way and willingness to learn. We've all got bad habits, don't think the managers are not saints, they are the worse offenders..

  • nizar

    Say what you do and do what you say.
    in one of the top 50 global firms, freindly and easy going was one of the top praised qualities.

    Yes, respect to others' religion, sex orientation, color, ethnicities etc... and being sarcastic of other is a red line. Simply you can losse you job without notice based on ethical grounds REGARDLESS of your ranking or employement status.

    Beinig chearful, casual and freindly to your absolute nature is more than welcomed, yet all know that when it is work everyone acts seriously. This is due to the proper allocation of authirity, responsibilities and accountability.

    Everyone is evaluated with absolute transperancy based on assigned objectives and targets. You can work from office or from the Moon, no one cares as long ass you deliver.

    It is all about execution and delivery and being henst and authentic.

  • The first day on the job, remember: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." And from that day on: Honesty, integrity, professional appearance, being helpful to new employees, and a smile (at appropriate times) - and, of course, efficiency.

  • Looking for a Job :)

    Wish I got that article long time ago. Now, I know why I have been doing almost the same job for 17 years and never got promoted.. hehehe :)

    Now, please tell me what to do .. Shall I change job and country??

  • kallol

    Great Topic !!! But being friendly with a charm of corporate ethics and mixing with each rank equally should also be treated as a quality. A quality which makes whole office envoronment easy and tension free. This type should not be tagged as a negative component while deciding abt a person. Why a seperate culture of corporate? the point captured shld be a basic way a good gentleman should be. One cant change for 8 hrs, making it more hypocratic.

  • Hema Mohan

    Being professional also means to put your point across straight and ensure that it is for the general good of the company. In a professional atmosphere, each one is supposed to know that suggestions are coming after thoughtful processes and respect for such actions is to be welcomed. Bottling up emotions can only lead to psychosomatic disorders.Also friendship and camaraderie enhance workplace joy. Of course , normal decency and courtesy have to be maintained at al times!

  • shobha dash

    Good thought! however I feel that being friendly at work and having a cheerful disposition keeps your co workers feeling light. Yes of course one should know where to draw the line.

  • Adam Selene

    I always wonder after these kind of recommendations how one is supposed to possess a "passion for excellence" without being a passionate person, and therefore emotional or dramatic individual.

    I would rather forgive someone's outburst if there is good logic behind it than have a tongue bit while trying to remain calm.

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