Professionalism & Work Ethic

  • Understand the importance of professionalism and work ethic to success in professional contexts.
  • Learn to work and compose smarter.

Professionalism and Work Ethic refers to a cluster of traits that people use to describe a person’s character and behavior.

  1. Professionalism refers to
    • a cluster of competencies that experts possess. For instance, a mathematician can work with mathematical formulae to solve real-world problems while a tennis pro can hit the ball from anywhere on the court.
    • a cluster of general competencies needed to achieve in the workforce. The Department of Labor defines Professionalism as “conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence. It means communicating effectively and appropriately and always finding a way to be productive.”
    • a moral code or code of ethics. These codes may include explicit rules of conduct codified by a community or professional society. For instance, the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association have ethical codes that doctors and lawyers are expected to follow when working with clients.
  2. Work Ethic refers to a person’s commitment to self-discipline and commitment to the daily grind. Examples of Work Ethic traits are attributes like showing up for work, being punctual, meeting deadlines, focusing on the process while also being aware of the end goal (winning a sports championship, getting a client’s business, evolving as a person).

Professionalism and Work Ethic are obviously tied to success in the workplace. They also play leading roles in our personal lives and sports. In the psychological literature, Professionalism and Work Ethic are associated with the personality construct called Conscientiousness, a cluster of traits related to competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation.

Standards of Professionalism and Work Ethic are constantly evolving as a result of changes in society, globalization, and technology. For instance, in the U.S. there has been a general move toward more informal attire in business settings. Now it’s common place for a business to allow for casual dress unless you are seeing clients regularly.

Yet there are a few behaviors that are persistently tied to success in the workplace. Promptness is a big one. Employers expect you to show up on time. And of course they expect you to have good hygiene, to listen, and to be respectful to colleagues. Employers also value people who assume responsibility, people who do what it takes to get the task completed. 

Having a strong work ethic–in personality life, sports, and work settings–doesn’t necessarily equate with incessant hard work. While every culture needs worker bees, ideally Worth Ethic involves more than effort, dedication, and a focus on hard work. Rather, a sound work ethic invokes worker smarter and not necessarily harder.

Professionalism & Work Ethic in the Work Place

Not surprisingly, perhaps, intrapersonal competencies, which employers often call “soft skills,” are crucial to professional success in work contexts.

Each year, NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) conducts a survey of its members to explore what prospective employers are looking for from recent college graduates. In its annual survey of the most prized workforce readiness competencies, NACE found U.S. employers rank Professionalism/Work Ethic as the third most important workforce competency (after Critical Thinking and Collaboration) for years 2015 through 2018.

While employers clearly prize Intrapersonal skills, in 2019 they gave college graduates low scores (3.49) for their mastery of professionalism/work ethic (NACE 2019):

While employers clearly prize Intrapersonal skills, in 2009 they gave college graduates low scores (3.49) for their mastery of professionalism/work ethic (NACE 2019):

Professionalism,Work Ethic & Writing Processes

Like other highly demanding cognitive tasks, writing well requires deep declarative knowledge regarding communication and writing processes. Professionalism requires knowledge of Collaboration, Genre, Information Literacy, Invention, Mindset, Organization, Research, Rhetoric, Style, and Editing.

Beyond understanding the values, practices, and aesthetics of successful writers, aspiring writers need loads and loads of practice: Procedural (Tacit) Knowledge.

Ultimately, other people cannot make you a better writer. Rather, you need to invest in yourself. This requires a strong work ethic and professionalism. In a word, conscientiousness. Particularly when the document is important, you may need to write dozens and dozens of drafts.


At Writing Commons, we are eager to publish research and theory as well as pedagogical exercises that help students better develop their professionalism and work ethic. Please see Contribute to learn about how you can collaborate with us and help students along the way.


Department of Labor. Professionalism.  12/5/19.



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