The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What are the three most unprofessional things an employee can do on the job?” is by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.
The evolution of today’s workplace makes determining “professional” behavior a much more difficult process. Depending on what industry you work in and who you work with, what is appropriate — from dress code to social activities to client interaction — can change drastically.
I’m a fan of casual and comfortable in the workplace and encourage my employees to embrace this type of culture. It fits our industry, without putting our professionalism in question. But there are certain unbending guidelines we should all follow, regardless of industry, age, or experience. It starts with being savvy enough to understand the brand you work for and the team you work with, plus throwing a little human kindness into the equation.
Mind your brand
You might think this one is a no brainer, but sometimes it’s not always obvious what a brand stands for or how to translate that into “professional” behavior. At S’well we’re young, scrappy, and creative. We do a lot of things that aren’t necessarily “by the book” and certainly encourage out-there thinking and personal interpretation. All that aside, we do have certain brand rules that are set in stone. One of these is “no plastic, ever.” Obvious for S’well, right? The company was founded on the principle of helping eliminate the use of plastic bottles in the world. But it’s not always that obvious for everyone which is why it’s important to understand your company’s mission, then believe it and embrace it. Not sure what it is? Well, ask. It will help you represent your company and yourself in a better light.
Be a team player
Leaning in and assisting your colleagues with projects — whether you’re assigned to them or not — is such an important part of any position in business. Even though at S’well we distinguish teams by different titles, roles, and specific areas of the business, we all are working toward a common goal to expand the business and have fun while doing it. So when it comes time for a retail trade show or selecting next season’s colors, it becomes a company-wide affair and we need all hands on deck. Just because something doesn’t necessarily fall into your job description or wheelhouse, it doesn’t mean you can’t cross over and help out — even if it means emptying the dishwasher one of your co-workers ran the night before.
Account for your actions
Perhaps you couldn’t get to that report you owe your boss and it is looming over your head. Or maybe you’re confused and don’t know where to begin on a new assignment your client requested. It happens. But the worst thing you can do is hide behind your computer and not ask for help. It slows down the entire team and makes you look pretty unprofessional. Bosses and clients need to know that their team members and partners can be counted on to get the job done, even if it means asking for clarity or more time to figure it out. This proves that, even though you might not know everything (right then and there), you do know the importance of open communication. No matter the situation, it’s critical to be honest with yourself so you can be honest with others. This will help you determine what actions you need to take to set yourself and your team up to win.