The New Rules of Being Professional in the Workplace

Professional etiquette has changed as the workforce becomes more multi-generational.


Can you define what professionalism looks like? Generations, cultures and backgrounds may define the behavior and actions associated with professionalism differently. And now that our world is truly global and multi-generational, do we need to set some standard expectations for professional behavior? Maybe now is a good time to start the discussion.

Outreach etiquette. The term "networking" is fairly common in the United States. It describes the act of a person proactively reaching out to meet with a person of influence or for the exchange of mutually beneficial information. In some circles, referrals or networking is the only way business gets accomplished. Yet, networking can literally be a foreign concept to some international students. In fact, even in this country, people's opinions vary on how it should and shouldn't be done.

Reaching out to someone you would like to meet requires respect and professionalism. What does that sound like? The answer lies in the eyes and ears of the receiver. To send the right message and one that will result in a networking connection, you'll want to learn how to cater your message to the desired audience. The more you know about the person you want to meet, the more customized and meaningful your message will be. Test it and evaluate the change in responses.

Thank-you notes that show gratitude. Writing a good thank-you note or saying thank you is not only important, but an expected form of professionalism and courtesy, at least among certain generations and cultures. While everyone may not have received education on this, your thank-you skills prove your professionalism. Saying thank you shows your appreciation for someone's time or effort. It also shows gratitude and respect. Those who go out of the way to show appreciation are more likely remembered or stand apart from the people who overlook this small detail. Saying thank you isn't the only way to show professionalism, but it is a quick fix and easy to implement immediately.

Do what you say you'll do. Have you ever committed to do something and then it slips your mind? It happens, but could it damage your professional reputation? It depends on the situation. And what if it happens too often? Think about the personal and professional colleagues you rely on most. You know you can count on these friends to help out in a bind. Dependability is a way to demonstrate professionalism. The actions and behaviors of someone dependable are not difficult to identify. Dependability means you follow through by doing what you say you're going to do. This quality will help differentiate you from the masses. Being a person of your word is a valuable reputation to establish.

RSVP what? An RSVP is a request to respond. When you see this on an invitation, it means the person or organization hosting the event would like an accurate head count and your response allows them to confirm the appropriate details for the event. If you can't make the event, decline formally. But if you're uncertain if you'll be available to attend, what do you do? Do you hold a spot or let it go to someone who absolutely can attend? And what if something comes up at the last minute and you are unable to attend? If we asked a room of people for responses, there would be multiple answers. Regardless of what answer you choose, the more relevant question to ask is, how will your response or lack thereof impact your reputation?

Your Reputation is at Stake

The recurring theme here is that actions you take (or choose not to take) put your professional reputation on the line. It doesn't take much for an unfavorable reputation to spread like wildfire, especially if you're a repeat offender. Conversely, an impeccable reputation that makes you look consistently professional and reliable sticks with you, and could be the single noticeable difference between you and someone you're competing against for a promotion or new role.

Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.

corporate culture
Generation Y
baby boomers

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