9 Ways to Improve Workplace Professionalism

October 6, 2011

You represent both yourself and the company you work for when you are in your office. Being more professional on the job can both advance your career, and can be an excellent addition to your personal attributes on your resume…you know, the part where you say all sorts of wonderful things about yourself, including: “professional work habits“.

The following is a list of ways you can improve how others see you.

1. Turn Off The CellPhone

Unless you use your cellphone for business purposes, put it in your drawer, your briefcase or your bag and leave it there until you take a coffee-break or your lunch. The constant distraction of checking for texts or emails or answering calls will both interrupt the work you are supposed to be doing, and will be a noticeably unprofessional behavior for anyone who is paying attention. Keep personal calls to emergencies only, unless you are on a coffee break.

2. Go Easy on the Perfume or Cologne

Save the scent for after hours when you are not in an enclosed space. Many people are allergic to the ingredients in perfumes and colognes, and you may actually be repelling people with your scent! Some workplaces have instituted “scent-free” policies, and contravening this policy could land you in trouble. The other problem with heavy scent-use is that after a while, your olfactory senses become accustomed to the scent you are using, and it takes more and more of it for you to even tell whether you are wearing any. For everyone around you, however, you are a walking cloud of off-gas, which is not particularly pleasant.

3. Take Appropriate Breaks

Punctuality is professional. You may not think anyone is paying any attention, but you would be wrong about that. Taking 15 or 30 minutes as allotted and sticking to that is to your benefit. Consistently longer breaks is actually comparable to stealing time…which will not look good when it comes time for your employee review.

Not taking a break at all is also not professional. You need a bit of a mental and physical break from whatever it is you are working on, and doing that once or twice a day can actually boost productivity more than sitting at your desk the entire time can. No one is interested in a martyr, and breaks are built into your day according to labor law. So take a stretch, get outside or at least outside your workspace for a few minutes and be ready to come back and get busy.

4. What Is on Your Computer Screen?

Playing solitaire or cruising around on Facebook may be fine on a break, but doing this while you are supposed to be working is not great. Some would argue that a couple of minutes on one of these sites is akin to a brain break, and that employees are more productive if allowed to do this…but that’s the key word…allowed. If you want to know about how your boss feels about this issue…ask! It may be that a couple of minutes will be acceptable.

Also beware that some companies have computer tracking systems that allow them to monitor how much internet surfing you are doing and what exactly you are looking at.

5. Chewing Your Cud

I was recently in a bank waiting to go in to see my banker, when I noticed one of the tellers- a lovely young woman dressed in professional-looking clothes- serving a customer at her window. What I noticed was that she was chomping away on some gum while she was serving the customer. (I know people love to chew gum…I have no problem with that, but in a workplace, especially in customer service, it looks absolutely awful.) She was talking and chewing away at the same time, and that small bit of gum instantly destroyed her otherwise business-like appearance. First impressions are everything, and in this case, I was unimpressed.

6. Food and Drink at Your Desk

Some companies have policies on this subject, particularly if you have expensive computer equipment you are working with. Water aside, having food and beverages in your workspace can look messy and unprofessional. If you are dealing with customers at all, it may not be wise to have food in your teeth when turning to ask how you can help. Save the snacking for the lunchroom, and keep your desk tidy…much more professional!

7. Leave Your Workout Gear at Home (Or at least in your car!)

Vancouver was recently voted the worst dressed city based on the number of people running about in yoga pants. Now, I have nothing against yoga pants…I own a few pair myself, but I certainly don’t wear them to the office. If you are trying to improve your professional look, spandex, knit and fleece apparel should not be part of your “at-work” ensemble. Try to stick to sturdier, less stretchy materials and get changed for the gym after your shift.

8. Telephone Etiquette

I could do an entire post on this, and likely will in the future, but one thing I want to mention here is the language you use when on the telephone in a professional setting. Try to avoid using slang or casual language. Phrases such as “hang on” or “one sec” are alright for use at home, but more the professional way to convey the same messages would be “hold please” and “one moment please”.

“Hello” is better than “hi” or “hey” , unless you are working somewhere that calls for casual greeting of customers. Putting people on hold is better than leaving the phone on the desk, which I’ve seen done, and allowing the customer to hear the everything that’s going on around you. And saying “good-bye” or “bye” is better than saying “ba-bye” or “bye-bye” or “later!”

9. Office Gossip

A quick way to kill any sense of professionalism anyone might have of you is to participate in office gossip. Socializing and catching up with others is appropriate and build community, but talking about other co-workers in their absence is the fastest way to being disrespected and distrusted yourself. If you end up in a group of people who start to talk about a co-worker, excuse yourself and get busy doing something else, or, if you are assertive enough, introduce a new topic and change the direction of the conversation. If you do that consistently, people will get the message you are not going to play that game, and you will be seen to be more professional for it.


Whew! Those are nine quick tips on how to improve professionalism at work. I hope you have found something useful here.

If you have any more tips to add to this list, please comment below…I would love to hear from you!





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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

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JennSwanson March 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm

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