Remaining Professional: Separating Work and Play

The word “professional” has several common meanings. It means you’re above the amateur level, an expert or a person who does a particular job for a living, and is trained.

There’s a much more important meaning: It also relates to a personal image, your standards of behavior, your ethics and your reputation. Your professional obligations require some management.

Work and Play

“Work hard, play hard” is a sort of iconic slogan in the workplace, but it comes with several major qualifiers. Working with people and socializing with them aren’t the same thing. To maintain a working relationship, and still be doing your work properly, ethically and fairly can involve some difficult choices and sometimes awkward situations.

The rules of professionalism are:

Personal relationships don’t interfere with your professional obligations: There’s no choice to be made. The professional obligations come first, always, in any situation.

Social relationships don’t affect your professional judgment regarding employment or management issues: Regardless of your relationships, you are never nepotistic, never biased, when making decisions. People are hired, fired and promoted on a stringently proper basis, on their own merits.

Business relationships are kept on a strictly professional basis: Networking is one thing. Making dubious business arrangements and allowing conflicts of interest in your job are very different things. Professional standards require absolute integrity in all areas of business. Conflicts of interest also seriously weaken your position in any professional environment, and are best avoided on principle.

Professional ethics aren’t negotiable: Never allow your professional behavior or ethically related actions to be influenced by anyone. All professions have standards of propriety, and those standards are best practice.

Making Your Position Clear

Explaining your professional obligations to people isn’t easy, particularly to those not in your profession, or not in managerial roles. You can, however, demonstrate and make it clear what you will do and will not do, in any given situation.

To friends and close colleagues, you can simply make it clear that there are no personal considerations in your actions, and there can be no favoritism. Everybody will understand your position. The job is your responsibility, and they wouldn’t be too thrilled by anyone telling them how to do their jobs, or why those jobs are done in a particular way, either.

To managers or senior staff, you can state your position far more clearly. Professional standards and ethics are also best practice. There’s no room for compromise regarding that situation. To do your job properly, and in many cases according to law, those standards must be applied.

In Practice

Applying your professional standards isn’t necessarily simple. Some situations seem designed to test your abilities in this area.

There’s a way of simplifying the many issues: 

  • Always be scrupulously fair in your dealings with everyone in the workplace.
  • Never allow yourself to be placed in a position where a possible conflict of interest can be inferred.
  • Do things “by the book,” sticking to the proper rules and requirements of the job.
  • If you’re not sure of the situation, check it out thoroughly with a professional colleague, get a second opinion on the issues.

The word “professional” has a lot of meanings, but they all have to be put into practice to be meaningful.