A friend of mine texted me the other day to ask if you could ever be “too professional” at work. I wrote her back that I thought the short answer was no. But here’s the long answer:
The reason my short answer was no is largely because I believe acting professional means acting appropriately for your work and at your workplace. The only conceivable objection I can come up with to being “too professional” at work is that you might act stuffy, alienate customers or coworkers, or act overly formal for your job. But my argument is that those problems come not from being too professional, but from not acting professionally, not acting appropriately for your job. Each job and each workplace, even within the same field, will demand a specific level of formality of behavior. Let’s take attire for example: I’ve worked in libraries where jeans were appropriate attire and I’ve worked in libraries that were strictly business casual. There are probably libraries that require more or less formal attire because of the job description of their employees and certainly outside of the library world you want to dress appropriately for your work. A suit would be as out of place in a mechanic shop as coveralls would be in the boardroom (remind me to tell you sometime of how I used to dream of wearing coveralls as a library page. I still think this is a great idea).
Much like attire, in some workplaces it might be appropriate to use very formal language and modes of address with your customers, coworkers, and supervisors, while in other places it might be appropriate to be less formal. As with attire, you want to act appropriately for your workplace because that is the professional thing to do. If you are overly formal with patrons at a small, rural library branch that feels more like the community’s living room, you are judging the situation as wrongly as if you act too informal in a library where patron’s are used to being treated with more formality.
What do you think? Does this definition of professionalism match yours? Do you think it’s possible to be too professional?