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Sometimes acting “professional” is a privilege

Image from Pixabay by Mohamed Hassan

I recently traveled to Columbus, OH for a conference and had a few encounters that got me thinking about what it means to act professional. The first was during a layover in D.C., when I needed to go to the counter to get a boarding pass printed for my connecting flight. The woman working there wasn’t exactly rude, but she wasn’t thrilled to help me either. My request was pretty simple to accommodate and she did end up giving me a small smile as she handed me my pass, but it was not a 5-star customer experience.

When I arrived at the front desk of my hotel to check in, I encountered another woman who seemed to have had it with the public. As she was finding my reservation, the phone rang. Presumably it was a guest with a couple questions about their room. The employee answered the questions, but after hanging up, she grumbled about her dissatisfaction with having to respond to guests’ needs. I was tempted to point out that as an employee in the hospitality field that was her primary duty. But instead, I collected my room key and left her to her no good, very bad day.

I have neither the wealth nor the entitlement that would create an expectation of 5-star service everywhere I go. But these two experiences caught me off guard given that in both scenarios there is a general expectation of friendliness and welcoming that was woefully lacking. Grant it, just because someone works in hospitality, it does not mean they are there because it is their calling and they love working with the public. Maybe it’s just the job they have at the moment. 

It also occurred to me that even if they did go into this profession with intention, given how many companies are struggling to find workers and given how low wages can be in these positions, maybe these two employees are in jobs they want, but they don’t have the staff and resources they need.

Which led me to a conclusion I hadn’t considered before…acting professional is sometimes a  privilege. Even the most professional of professionals can act badly when they are overworked, underpaid, short staffed, and long overdue for a break. We’ve all had those moments, right?

All this has motivated me to have a little more grace, for myself and for others. If you are feeling a kinship with these two service workers I talked about, here are a few ways to protect your ability to act professional. (I know this is not rocket science, but having a reminder can be helpful:

 In your current job:

  • Tell others you are struggling and ask for help.

  • Be mindful of your limits before you volunteer or accept more work.

  • Reset your perspective. In the grand scheme of things, is what you are stressing over worth stressing over?

Looking for or starting a new job:

  • Reflect on past experiences that hindered your professionalism

  • Determine what you need to sustain your professionalism.

  • Ask what support and resources are available to employees


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