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Opinion: Labor shortage shouldn’t compromise professionalism

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If you’ve attempted to hire a new employee recently, it comes as no surprise that there’s a shortage of talented professionals in this area.

Based on data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Springfield has been at or below 3 percent for the past several years. This makes it increasingly challenging for employers to find and recruit professional talent, regardless of industry. The 2018 Gallagher Benefits Strategy and Benchmarking Survey reported that “attracting and retaining talent remains the No. 1 operational priority of 60 percent of employers.”

While many employers are getting creative in the ways they source, attract and retain candidates and their existing workforce, their standards for those employees have not changed much. In addition to relevant skills and job knowledge, many organizations still want polished, professional candidates often even for entry-level positions. But what does it mean to be a professional candidate, and what are employers really looking for when they say that?

The University of Missouri Career Center asked students what they envisioned when they thought of a “professional.” In a blog post titled, “Professionalism in the Workplace: What does it REALLY mean,” students described professionals as having a “business suit, formal manners/communication and a sense of feeling a little robotic or putting on an image of some sort.”

But being a professional means more than just dressing the part, possessing a degree or holding a title. Professionalism also has to do with how you conduct yourself, both personally and professionally. True professionals possess a number of important characteristics that can apply to almost any type of business or industry.

A 2015 National Professionalism Survey conducted by York College of Pennsylvania Center for Professional Excellence asked respondents to choose three qualities that best described a co-worker they considered to be a professional. The survey found “being focused” was the quality named most often (37 percent), followed by being punctual (28 percent), humble (25 percent), diligent (23 percent) and having communication skills (23 percent). Conversely, the top quality describing unprofessional behavior was “being disrespectful” (59.9 percent), followed by irresponsible (26 percent), not ambitious (24 percent) and being late or absent (21 percent).

Given that it is increasingly hard to find top talent, why are employers unwilling to compromise on professionalism? Professionalism is important for several reasons. In an article titled “Professionalism: An Essential Skill,” staffing firm Robert Half points out that “time spent accommodating a colleague’s prickly ego or ever-changing moods is time taken away from working on a common goal.” It further states that “as customer service has become the critical differentiator for so many businesses, the ability to treat customers and clients with tact and courtesy has become indispensable.” Lastly, the article makes the point that “almost everyone simply prefers working with people who make them feel respected.”

Every workplace is different in terms of professional expectations and culture, but all jobs require a degree of professionalism to keep things running smoothly. Even a less formal workplace requires employees to treat customers well and to get work done on time, both key elements of professionalism. Professionalism might also include consistently having a positive attitude, never forgetting to attach documents to emails, keeping all communications free from grammatical errors, keeping your work area neat and organized, owning up to mistakes and fixing them as soon as possible, responding to people promptly and following through on promises in a timely manner, and simply extending respectful, appropriate behavior in every situation.

Professional workplace behavior is crucial to the long-term success of a business, and will continue to be a top priority for employers despite a tight labor market. In the words of Emily Post, “Every day is an interview for the next promotion, raise, client or opportunity you would like to earn.”

Allison Kimes is Guaranty Bank’s talent acquisition and management specialist. She can be reached at akimes@gbankmo.com.

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