7 Helpful Ways to Address Lack of Professionalism in the Workplace 

Call it old-fashioned, but everyone needs workplace professionalism. In other words, you must put on a certain behavior once you enter the workspace. 

Unfortunately, there are too many unprofessional behaviors at work today. You probably see it all the time. People arriving late and leaving early. Office workers wearing flip-flops and shorts. Team members missing deadlines. 

Well, I’m here to show you how to address lack of professionalism in the workplace. I’ll first go over what unprofessionalism looks like, the importance of professional behavior, and, finally, how to address this behavior. So let’s go!

Read More: Addressing the High Performing Toxic Employee: An Ultimate Guide for Managers

What Does Lack of Professionalism Look Like

David Maister, a bestselling author and Harvard Business School professor, said “Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you.” 

This shows that professionalism has a lot to do with interpersonal skills and how someone conducts themselves. So lack of professionalism meaning can be someone who doesn’t care about others. To give you a clearer picture, here are a few lack of professionalism examples in the workplace:

  • Poor time management. Someone who always arrives late and can never complete tasks on time is not professional. This is because these actions can hinder the other team members. 
  • Wrong attire. Yes, something as simple as not wearing the appropriate attire shows your level of professionalism (hint: it isn’t high). A partner of an accounting firm told of his shock when one of the workers came in wearing shorts. Can you imagine what kind of reputation that gave the partner? 
  • Half listening or not listening at all. One of the top social skills you need is active listening. This means you give the person your full attention. You understand, respond, and remember what is being said. People who only half listen (or worse – don’t listen at all) are not promoting professionalism. 
  • Inappropriate communication style. Here’s how Fernanda Anzek, an HR manager, puts it, “An employee may treat one of their colleagues like they would a personal friend, throwing casual slang into the conversation and broaching topics that may not be suitable for the workplace. It’s key that employees understand all types of professional audiences and modify their communication accordingly.”
  • Unwilling to be a team player. Unprofessionalism can look like someone who hates team projects, team buildings, and team events. These workers are always unavailable when someone needs their help. They’re also unreliable. Remember, the workforce is a team. Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

Why Is Professionalism in the Workplace Important

OK, so what if a worker wears shorts and flip-flops? So what if a few employees feel like they don’t want to attend team events? What is the importance of professionalism in the workplace? Does it really make a difference?

I say, yes, it does. And almost 87% of employers think the same way. Here’s why…

A professional employee is an engaged employee. And when you’re engaged, you will find ways to improve your performance. This can include always making sure you do great in your tasks, being initiative and creative at work, and more. 

Another thing. Remember, professionalism has a lot to do with interacting with others. If you act in an appropriate behavior, there will be less conflict, confusion, frustration, toxicity, and negative reputation. 

So if Joe wears clothes that go against the dress code, that can create a bad brand reputation from customers, clients, partners, etc. If Sarah arrives late, that can cause frustration from other coworkers who depend on her for their tasks. You see, professionalism is crucial. 

The 7 Best Ways to Address Lack of Professionalism at Work

We saw why workplace professionalism is so important. So as a manager, team leader, or supervisor, you must address lack of professionalism right away. Here are the 7 best ways to do that:

  1. Define professional behavior
  2. Communicate your definition of professionalism
  3. Set a strong example
  4. Encourage accountability and responsibility
  5. Hone communication skills
  6. Provide feedback
  7. Offer training 

1. Define professional behavior

Yes, the term ‘professionalism’ can be rather broad. Also, professionalism means different things to different people. Because of this, you must define professional behavior for the specific company’s culture. 

For example, if you manage a workshop, tidying up the work area is how a professional should behave. If you want high productivity, define professional behavior as someone who arrives early, checks their work before submitting, meets deadlines, asks questions when confused, etc…

In the same way, if you want to promote a positive work environment, define professionalism as someone who lowers their voice when talking on the phone, makes eye contact when being talked to, sends a thank-you or get-well-soon note, waits for everyone before they start eating, avoids emotional outbursts, doesn’t gossip or spread rumors…

It’s a good idea to make a very detailed list of what behaviors you want in the workplace. 

Read More: 10 Successful Tips for Dealing With Easily Offended Employees

2. Communicate your definition of professionalism

You can’t expect your team to be professional if they don’t know what your definition of professionalism is. This is why, once you complete your list of behaviors, you have to tell everyone about it. 

Make sure you communicate it well. This way, all workers will know the standards that they need to live up to. If someone doesn’t meet the set expectations, don’t ignore them. Go and talk to that person right away. 

Of course, you shouldn’t accuse them. Instead, give constructive criticism. This will make them listen to you more. 

3. Set a strong example

You want your team to be professional? Then you need to be professional yourself. You need to be their role model. 

So go over your definition of professionalism. Find ways to improve yourself on each behavior. If you tend to become angry easily, take some time to calm down before you deal with a frustrating situation. If you have a habit of using your phone during work hours, turn it off and put it away. 

When the team sees a leader following the code of conduct, they will be encouraged to follow suit. They will understand that you take professional behavior seriously. 

But of course, we’re all human. You will fail in one or two (or many) aspects. If so, you should admit your mistake to everyone and apologize. This will encourage everyone to do the same. 

4. Encourage accountability and responsibility

Madeline Miles from BetterUp puts it this way:

As a leader, you need to promote both accountability and responsibility in your team. You may be ultimately accountable for the success or failure of a particular project, but you should also make sure that every team member feels a clear sense of responsibility for their part in the task. To encourage employees to go above and beyond, you’ll have to start by giving them a sense of ownership over their tasks, and clearly communicating your expectations.

When you do this, workers will be highly motivated to demonstrate professionalism. This means they’ll take their tasks seriously, meet deadlines, and deliver results reliably and ethically. 

5. Hone communication skills

Effective communication is a fundamental aspect of professionalism. This will promote respectful interactions, active listening, and clear expressions. In turn, this will build positive relationships in the workplace. What’s more, the ability to communicate will avoid conflicts, confusion, inefficiency, and lack of engagement. 

How do you hone communication skills for yourself and the team? Well, you can provide training and resources, address issues promptly, offer feedback (this is my next point), facilitate team-building activities, encourage open communication, hold team meetings, etc…

Read More: 10+ Communication Strengths and Weaknesses You Need to Know

6. Provide feedback

A survey showed that a whopping 96% of employees say regular feedback encourages them to work harder. So if you want to promote professionalism in the workplace, always give positive and constructive feedback. 

If someone does something good, you can praise them and say that they acted very “professionally”. If someone does something unprofessional, give constructive criticism by being specific, staying calm and neutral, focusing on the behavior and not personality, etc… Also, always do it in a private setting so you don’t embarrass them. 

7. Offer training 

Training is great because there will be a coach. Different coaches will help with interpersonal skills, work ethics, work etiquette, technology, and anything else that promotes professionalism. All in all, you’ll see a boost in professional behavior if you provide the proper training. 

Final Words

Do you recognize a lack of professionalism in the workplace? Then follow the 7 ways to address this behavior that I provided. If so, you’ll see a boost in productivity, a positive work environment, and a good reputation. All these are crucial for success. 

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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