Follow by Email

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NSFW Thursday: The Death of Professionalism

I take my jobs seriously and expect the same of my coworkers, but it doesn't always happen. 

Let's start with the Urban Dictionary entry for the word "professionalism" (please note that while my NSFW posts are actually safe for work, Urban Dictionary probably isn't, unless you work at home and there are no kids around): any business practice in which happiness is sacrificed for success.

Now here's what some of my friends (a corporate woman, an attorney, and an early childhood education director) have to say about professionalism where they work. They are all in their thirties and forties.

Corporate America Woman (for lack of a better title for her):


I work in "Corporate America" and the lack of professionalism that I see is running rampant. It's not just in retail. I work in an environment that permits the consumption of alcohol after 1530 on Friday's in the office; we are allowed to use profanity and as long as we don't show up naked, we can wear whatever we want to wear. We are also a "Go Green" company but I don't think it was meant to be taken to the next level when the same few employees are recycling the same employees in the bedroom. I love my job but I feel that many people take advantage of the liberties that are afforded to us.

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Every Monday that I come to work, I have to listen to the same few people talk about how wasted they were over the weekend, while wearing the same trashy ensemble that they most likely wore in the club all weekend. The exact same people complain and swear that it is the result of some type of grand conspiracy of why they cannot seem to get a promotion within the company. Really? Who's going to promote someone that is always talking about being wasting and dresses like a street walking prostitute? Although the members of upper management may not always hear it, it gets back to them and they monitor the actions of these people. People just don't realize how their actions result in them being "blacklisted".

Early Childhood Education Director:



 I would say that there are many facets to defining professionalism. There's appearance, quality of work, relationships, manners of communication, attitude and more. I have decided that, in my workplace, I should not assume that everybody understand, defines and displays "professionalism" in the same way. Standards can vary from place to place, and even from department to department. I'm learning that I have to be clear and specific about my expectations in this regard because it is the first job ever for many of my staff. So I always try to point out things that might be acceptable or not across the board in many settings.

Defense Attorney:


 The ABA requires a course on ethics and professionalism to graduate from law school, and afaik, every state requires a certain number of your mandatory CLEs to be ethics credits...so in theory, there should be no such thing as an unethical, unprofessional attorney. And I have no problem with swearing at work, or using slang...in fact, I have a tendency to lapse into the same language style as the person to whom I'm speaking, and while I don't do it intentionally, I DO think it helps clients feel more at ease with me... 

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 

To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..

To me, professionalism means maintaining a separation between your work life and your personal life. It's one thing to interrupt your work to deal with a personal emergency, but it's entirely inappropriate to discuss one client/customer with another, complain to coworkers in front of patrons, or behave in any other manner that might shatter the illusion that the client standing before you is The Most Important Person In Your Life Right Now. 
To expound on what Amy said about professionalism going downhill, I think our society as a whole has become more casual over time.. Think about our grandparents' generation -- women wore heels when they went to the market, and men were never seen in their t-shirts outside their own homes. Now days, you go to Walmart and half the shoppers are in their pajamas... I'm certainly not advocating a return to the days of white gloves and pearls, but I DO think that we're rapidly reaching a point where people think the entire world is their living room..


I have had lots of paying jobs in my life, and I haven't always behaved in what I would call a professional manner. Usually it was because of age or inexperience. I had to learn as I went along, and make embarrassing mistakes that I sometimes got called out on. My first job ever was when I was 17. I worked at the pretzel stand in Montgomery Mall in Montgomery, Alabama. I made the mistake of following the behavior of my equally immature coworkers (which didn't make a lot of sense because I wasn't a follower) and it led to the manager, who was exhausted and pregnant with a toddler at home and a husband who also worked there at the mall, pulling me aside saying she hired me because she thought I would be different than the others who were there when she took over. I had a job at 18 where my fussing at the computer out loud was distracting to my coworkers and they let me know it. 

Now I work in retail, and because I used to shop a lot, I know that customers can potentially hear everything we say. This is first and foremost in mind before I say anything on the sales floor. I try not to say anything that I would be embarrassed about if someone called my manager and reported it (people get upset about things that puzzle me sometimes). I'm 36 and work with a lot of younger people. For some of them, it's the only job they've ever had and they have nothing to compare it to. For others, it's a second or even third job they're holding down to pay bills and support a family, just like me. Several are also full-time students. Whether you're a part-time student living with your parents and working a few hours a week or working fifty hours a week to keep afloat, the mind doesn't always focus on work. Everyone has slip ups. 

The lack of what I consider to be professionalism in the retail workplace involves language, appearance, conversation, and dependability. It actually has less to do with how well you do your actual job and more with how you conduct yourself around your managers, coworkers, clients, and customers. 

I've come up with some guidelines.

1. Keep the language clean. Profanity doesn't belong at work, not in front of customers/clients, and not in front of your coworkers. FTR, I feel like "ass" and "bitch" are not really profanity (I have a bit of a mouth myself but save it for friends and not for my coworkers) but would still hesitate to use them in front of a coworker, even in a casual setting.

2. Dress neatly. I make $7.67 an hour and can't really afford to buy a lot of trendy items because of things like the power bill, the water bill, and the gas bill. Thanks to money I used to have, and to a spouse who has found ways to purchase well-fitting, fashionable items for me for next-to-nothing, I can dress nicely for work. One reason I love working where I work is that I can dress well. But even if I couldn't dress well I would dress neatly. Pants should stay up (this is not a problem with the young men I work with, but some young ladies should switch to dresses...those of us with big bottoms have trouble finding pants that stay put). Tops should cover your tummies and backs. Your fingernails should be clean. You shouldn't look like you just rolled out of bed, even if you have. This is not a matter of having the nicest clothes, but of taking care of the things you have. It is fine if you have to wear the same clothes to work every time, but be sure they at least look and smell clean, even if they're not (believe me, I've been there).

3. Your customer/client comes first. I like chatting with my coworkers if we have opportunity, but I always greet my customers and ask if they need assistance. I tell them my name and am sure they know where I am (my job involves putting out a LOT of merchandise, changing watch batteries and removing watch links, showing fine jewelry from cases to customers, recovering the fashion jewelry department and the beauty department, and working as a backup cashier when other lines get too long). Private conversations shouldn't be had in public. I tell you, I hear customers say all kinds of things I wish they would keep private! Also, don't complain about customers when you have customers! (One great function of the employee lounge is that it gives you a place to complain about customers. Everyone in retail bitches about customers. It's part of the game. But don't do it in front of other customers.)

4. Your manager is not your friend, but she should be your ally. Don't share too much with your managers. Work issues? Definitely. Personal issues that affect your work? Yes. But the full details of your weekend (or your day off) and all of your family drama need to be shared with others. Make friends, please. (In this same vein, managers should be careful about oversharing with their employees.)

5. Be friendly with your coworkers, but oversharing is bad. I do work with some delightful people (I mean delightful! They are sweet and fun and genuine young people) who are all best friends with each other and they still manage to work well together. I think that's great. But while they're at work, even though there's some fun banter, they still work. I'm sure they know all kinds of things about each other that I will never know...thank God. I like most of my coworkers a lot, and I care about what happens to them outside of work. I don't want a situation like I had at my last job where someone died of breast cancer because no one ever told us she was sick. But some things I just don't want to know about my coworkers (like whether you use regular or super tampons, which is a real life complaint a friend had to make about her coworkers to their manager!).

6. Do your job and take pride in it. Care about your customers and your coworkers. I like working with the public. I feel like I was made for retail. According to my company, my first job is to provide excellent customer service according to our corporate philosophy. I believe I do this every time I step into my store. What's your job description? Read it carefully. Are you getting the point? Ask your manager to be sure. It might say your job is to run a cash register, but I bet there's more to it. Look at the goals of your job.

 For a while, when people I went to school with years ago (and had high intellectual and career expectations of me, no doubt) asked what I was doing now, I was kind of shy. But you know what? They have to buy their stuff from someone, and I'm glad it's me, someone who cares about their needs being met. Do I like throwing away coffee cups they leave behind and showing ten different diamond rings only to have no purchase, or cleaning up the fitting rooms when customers leave their stuff everywhere? Not especially. But I understand that my job description of "provide excellent customer service" is multi-faceted. And I understand that the more I show customers I care, the more often they will come see me. It's job security.

2 comments:

  1. I was told by my ex that his next wife would be a professional and not someone who provided child care in the home. But my job description was "provide excellent customer service", I did so I had job security. You made some excellent points!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love your posts. It's amazing how cashiers at the grocery store don't even acknowledge the customer anymore. It seems terrible that they have to communicate the total to the customer. I was trained to not touch one item of the order until we asked how they were and if they found everything ok. If we were within 5 feet of a customer, we had to say hi and ask if they needed help with anything. EVEN ON A BREAK. Don't even get me started about how to treat patients when you work in the medical field!

    ReplyDelete