What does professionalism mean, anyway?

12th February 2018

Published in

Here at Landmark, we like to keep our ear to the ground when it comes to what our customers are thinking. We recently did a poll of our SME customers to ask them about what they valued most about their workspace. The answers might surprise you.

The main piece of feedback from our customers was that they wanted their workspace to feel “professional” (70%), over “creative” (51%). This was a key piece of insight that has helped us launch our new style workspaces, which are underpinned by professionalism, prestige and client care. But it also got us thinking about professionalism in a wider sense and whether the meaning has changed over the years.

Of course, the challenge is that professionalism means different things to different people. The traditional definition of “professional” is someone who has recognised qualification like a lawyer or doctor. They might have a degree, post-graduate qualifications and typically significant on-the-job experience. But is this still the case? Do you have to have qualifications from a recognised university or professional body to be viewed as “professional”?

A dictionary definition is that professionalism is about the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional person. In other words, it’s about more than qualifications or experience. It’s a state of mind or attitude that marks them out as respectful, reliable and competent colleagues and employees. Crucially, it can be totally separate to someone’s competence.

The York College of Pennsylvania carries out a regular national study amongst US HR professionals of what they perceive to be the most essential qualities of professionalism. In the 2012 study, they were:

  • Interpersonal skills (33.6%)
  • Appearance (25.3%)
  • Communication skills (24.9%)
  • Time management (20.8%)
  • Confidence (20.7%)
  • Ethical (15.2%)
  • Work ethic (14.2%)
  • Knowledgeable (9.3%)

Of course, all of these could be expanded further – for instance, coming to work on time, delivering on promises and not hiding failures.

In the same study, the worst problems associated with new employees in terms of professionalism were:

  • Lack of urgency in getting a job done and poor time management (cited by 32.6% of managers surveyed)
  • A sense of entitlement (27.2%)
  • Poor performance coupled with a mediocre work ethic (23.0%)
  • Poor attendance (22.2%).

Share your view – what makes someone “professional” in the workplace?