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A professional environment in the workplace helps foster a company’s productivity, efficiency and reputation. Though some companies have moved toward more laid-back, casual office cultures, many companies, especially those that are heavily client-based, still strive to maintain a well-established code of both personal and professional decorum. Creating an air of professionalism often starts from the top down, with managers holding the responsibility for both setting a good example and instituting specific guidelines for behavior.
Set Clear Expectations
Don’t make your employees guess as to what is expected or permitted in the workplace. Your company should have a handbook that clearly states the rules for things such as break times, personal conversations in the workplace, office relationships and office conflicts. This handbook serves as both a guide for employees and a reference for managers when an employee steps out of line. The handbook should also provide information on the consequences for breaking company policy. These consequences could include formal write-ups, suspension without pay, or firing, depending on the severity of the offense. Consequences may also increase with the number of rules an employee breaks. However, these consequences should never be a surprise, and they should be defined as clearly and explicitly as possible in the company manual or handbook. This handbook should be given to all new employees on their first day, and any changes to the handbook should be given or sent via email to all existing employees.
Set a Dress Code
Professional dress and appearance may increase employees' sense of professionalism in their work, as well as their confidence in themselves and their colleagues. No matter what is actually permitted, the handbook should contain an official, written dress code. Typical office wear often includes dress slacks and button-down shirts for men, and dress pants, blouses, and appropriate skirts and dresses for women. Many companies prohibit jeans, T-shirts and open-toed shoes or sneakers, though some offices allow these items on casual Fridays. Make sure your dress code describes what is appropriate office wear and provides a guide for consequences or punishments for dressing inappropriately. Again, this serves as a reference should you have to reprimand an employee.
Provide a Professional Environment
Professional appearance doesn’t include only the employees. The office itself should be a professional environment, including the furniture, cleaning and maintenance services, and machinery and equipment. An environment that is clean, aesthetically pleasing and technologically up-to-date will allow employees to focus on their work rather than the office conditions. It will also encourage employees to maintain the cleanliness and organization of their own work spaces, and will give you more of a leg to stand on if you need to reprimand an employee for the state of his desk, office or cubicle. You may have a difficult time telling an employee he needs to organize his desk if the office is in a constant state of disorder and disrepair.
Provide Formal Feedback
If you expect your employees to act as professionals, you must treat them as professionals. Letting employees know that you monitor, understand and value their contributions to the company encourages both professionalism and morale. Hold formal monthly or quarterly review sessions with employees to discuss their projects, strengths, weaknesses and progress. However, these review sessions should not take the place of regular feedback and commentary on daily tasks and outcomes. Give your employees frequent notes, opinions and clarifications, so that what is said in the formal review session doesn't come as a surprise. Review sessions can also be a medium for asking employees to correct inappropriate workplace behaviors, though addressing those behaviors as soon as possible is often best.
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