What is Professionalism?

Discussions that help define professionalism have been written in many places over the past few months. I find this to be an interesting topic, and wondered a bit about where people stand in their thinking.

Definitions of professionalism range from Merriam-Webster to Wikipedia … in between are efforts such as this one and this one or this one. In nearly 15 years working professionally I have determined my own definition and believe that professionalism relates more to behavior, ethics/integrity and overall work ethic.


Behavior is critical to whether or not you are a professional. This can be anything from timeliness at work to maintaining a positive attitude in the office and with co-workers. But this also pertains to whether or not you are consistent in your behavior. Do you treat your male and female colleagues the same way? Do you plot ways to one-up a co-worker or identify opportunities to throw someone under the proverbial bus? While you may not admit it openly, there are numerous examples in work places around the world of this occurring. To me, this is not professional behavior. I work very hard to build relationships with my co-workers and colleagues that are centered on mutual trust, respect and the ability to work well together.

Ethics & Integrityprofessionalism

Behavior translates into ethics and integrity. Can people trust you completely? Do you act everyday with the company’s best interest in mind? Do you spend the company’s money as if it were your own? Do you lie or cheat your way into promotions and raises simply because you expect to get ahead? That is not professional behavior to me. Rather, that is the behavior of CEOs who have wound up fired or in jail for actions that have ruined companies and individuals. I live by a personal moral code that translates into honest, open behavior. I abide by a professional code of ethics as a public relations professional. Both of these solidify my belief that professionalism is not about you getting ahead or playing the corporate game well.

Work Ethic

I was raised by a father who grew up on a farm. That meant we were trained to work just as hard as he did growing up, just not at farm labor. We had chores that had to be completed along with homework every day. I was also taught that “idle hands are the devil’s playground”. This means I learned very young to keep myself busy with productive activities. As I’ve worked my way into a career as a marketing and PR person, it’s become evident to me that not everyone had the same work ethic. Comments such as “That’s not my job” are common place in many businesses, but do not represent a professional attitude. A professional work ethic means someone puts in the hours that your employer is paying for, but also going above and beyond when it’s required. Maintaining a positive attitude is important, albeit challenging at times. As a former boss of mine said, attitude equals altitude. If you maintain positivity, then you’ll be more likely to gain recognition and desired promotion within your career.

What do you think? Are there traits of professionalism that I missed?


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