Professionalism in the Workplace: How Casual is Too Casual?

August 25, 2022 Jackie Boskovski

Professionalism

Over the years, we’ve seen many shifts in business formality. Most recently, much of the global workforce is shifting back into an office or hybrid setting after working remotely. During that period of time in remote work, we’ve adapted to a new definition of professionalism; one where the lines between work and home have blurred. Some of these changes have been positive, like saving time on your commute, while others have been more negative, like responding to emails at 9 p.m.

Now that many companies are encouraging a hybrid work model or returning to offices full-time, we are trying to balance the old with the new when it comes to conducting ourselves professionally in the workplace. So, what does professionalism mean today? Here’s what you need to know to navigate the new hybrid work environment.

Dress Code

The rise in self-expression through our office wardrobes has become more prevalent than ever. In addition to expressing our unique style, wearing clothing we feel comfortable in has become a regular practice. Addressing the traditional office environment, specifically, we have seen a downturn in formal business attire. Workwear has moved toward a more casual aesthetic by ditching heels and neckties and embracing fabrics like lycra.
We know that we feel more comfortable in sweatpants, but what does that mean for an office today? While dress codes have certainly relaxed since much of the world shifted to working from home, ensure that you’re continuing to come off professionally without bordering on inappropriate. While sweatpants may still not cut it in the office, stretchy fabrics can still look professional. According to the NY Times, this updated wardrobe is being labeled as “power casual.” The key is to be confident in your appearance while still maintaining a professional look. This will translate into achieving your best level of performance at work.

Communication

How we communicate is essential in building strong relationships and trust at work. In recent years, conversations have moved to messaging and email from more traditional methods like in-person meetings and voice communication over the phone. Because of the lack of face time and inability to hear tone or read mannerisms, a lot can be lost in translation.

When your tone and in-person communication are absent, you should work harder on ensuring that your written communication is clear and thorough. This is especially true when we write in shorthand or use acronyms we expect others to understand. Communication needs to be effective in order to get our point across. When it comes to more casual mediums of communication like Slack or Microsoft Teams, it is tempting to be laxer. Use of punctuation to show enthusiasm is appreciated, especially when messaging with someone who does not know you well. Being too relaxed in our professional communication can sometimes put co-workers in an uncomfortable position and unnecessarily increase tensions within and between teams.

Relationships

Spending 40 or more hours a week working with the same group of people can result in professional relationships developing into friendships. Despite building these close bonds, it is critical to maintain your professionalism at work. By doing this, you avoid awkward situations like employee favoritism or leaving other coworkers feeling slighted.

What you do outside of the office is your own business, but be mindful of blurring the lines at any happy hours or recreational leagues you choose to participate in. What happens outside of work tends to find its way back to the office. Also, be respectful of how much your coworkers wish to share about their private lives – not everyone is an open book. It is best to respect everyone’s personal space and not to distract them while they are working.
When relationships take a more romantic turn at work, the slope can be especially slippery. If this should happen, be careful not to exhibit any public displays of affection in front of co-workers. This type of intimate behavior often makes others feel uncomfortable.

Office Gossip

It is tempting to want to voice your opinion on hot button topics at work. This risk associated with this is, you might be offending a coworker without realizing it. When it comes to office gossip it is best to not add fuel to the flame. If you like to talk about more polarizing subjects like politics with your colleagues, it’s best to do it outside of a professional setting and save it for a happy hour.

Whenever you hear gossip about coworkers or even your boss, you may want to think twice before engaging in the conversation. While it may feel like a bonding experience to share grievances with your coworkers, this practice is best done through the proper channels, whether that be Human Resources or your supervisor. This innocent venting could turn into an uncomfortable meeting with HR or worse—your job being jeopardized.
Read Also: 4 Ways to Identify and Weed Out Toxic Candidates

Office Hours

Switching to a work from home environment, especially in uncertain times, can easily pull us away from our traditional office schedules. We find ourselves adding a load of laundry between Zoom meetings or logging on at 9pm to wrap up the day after homework and bedtime with children. Though the flexibility in working from home is a plus, it can also result in working more hours when your desk is just a few feet away and you’re sprinkling personal tasks in throughout the day. It also may create a sense of pressure for your coworkers to respond at your “atypical hours.” Being in an office reinstates the structure of the 9 to 5 workday. It allows for a clear establishment of office hours when your colleagues know they can reach you (and vice versa) and allows you to log off when you leave your desk for the day.

Professionalism in the workplace will always be valued and emphasized. The definition and standards, however, will continue to evolve from shifts in technology and lifestyles. Despite all the change, we must choose to honor ourselves while upholding the values of the companies we work for and conduct our business in a professional manner. Appropriately presenting the most authentic version of yourself and being dedicated to performing your job well is the key to success.

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