Millennial Perspective — Professionalism is Not Commonsense

Millennial Perspective — Professionalism is Not Commonsense image DATE: August 21, 2020

One of the most common frustrations among leaders and employees today fundamentally lies in differing expectations of professionalism. Ultimately, as opposing as two people’s expectations can be — it’s important to establish a cohesive expectation in order to improve your workplace culture. Let’s take a look at what leaders need to know…

 Professionalism is Not Commonsense

The massive changes workplaces have undergone in light of COVID19 have magnified issues among our multi-generation workforce. I’ve heard leaders voice concerns in regards to a lack of professionalism in the workplace ranging from little to no concern for good teamwork to apathetic attitudes towards decreased personal productivity. Frustrations like these fundamentally lie within “professionalism standards”. These frustrations may or may not be new for you in this season, but they’ve been lingering among the multi-generation workforce for decades.

There are some aspects of professionalism that you likely consider to be commonsense. However, in today’s diverse workforce, many people have different standards of professionalism — one certain standard is not commonsense for everyone. 

Professionalism Shifts

Professionalism is a standard. The standards change among people depending on how, where, and when you were raised.

Here are a handful of factors in creating differing professionalism standards today:

  • When mom and dad went to work in the mid-late 1900s, kids started defining things for themselves based off an increased number of cultural influences.
  • 20-ish years ago, many schools chose to eliminate home economics and business classes — or at least make them electives — so the influence of a common standard created from school experience has decreased.
  • The internet — big mouths, crazy opinions, etc. attract widespread attention and heavily influence today’s social media obsessed culture
  • People used to stay in the same job or industry for their entire careers. Now many people — of all ages — are switching jobs, even industries, which is building a workforce with even more diverse professionalism standards
  • Many people in older generations held first-time jobs in food-service, lawn care, child care, movie theatres, etc. Those first jobs help set a standard for professionalism in the workplace. Now we are seeing many Gen Z’s entering the workplace after college without any previous work experience which means they are just learning what professionalism could and should be. 

Lots more factors play into professionalism standards — we’ve only scratched the surface. Professionalism affects internal and external culture throughout your organization. Let’s talk about what you as a leader can and should do to lead your organization to an improved culture overall.

Leadership Standards

Here’s an action item for you — answer this question in writing: What are my professionalism standards?

Once you’ve finished that task, ask yourself: When is the last time — if ever — that I’ve explicitly discussed those standards within my organization, specifically with my team individually?

Think about this for a moment…I’m a former Marketing Director. One of the widely accepted “rules” in marketing and advertising is that people must see or hear a message seven times before they buy. Let’s break that down for a second. Before a person makes a decision to take a different action (to buy vs. not buying), they need to hear the message an average of seven times. In the workplace, if you want your people to buy into a certain set of professionalism standards you and/or the company have, try communicating the message AT LEAST seven times on a frequent, consistent basis. The message may get old to employees, but it also may finally stick!

Professionalism is Not Commonsense, but the Leader’s Standard Should Be

Regardless of who your team is made up of and how diverse their personal definitions of professionalism may be, it’s the leader’s responsibility to drive the organization’s culture. In order to do that well, it takes leadership setting the standard and communicating it well. When you do that, you create an organization-wide expectation of performance standards. If your entire team understands the expectation thoroughly, they’re more likely to live up to it. 

How different, how much better could your organization be if you chose to take ownership of creating professionalism standards and communicating them well throughout the team? Give it a try and see!


Need to improve the culture within your organization? I can help. Let’s talk!


#professionalism #leadershipdevelopment #companyculture #ownership #communicationtips

About The Author:

Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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