Renewed focus on professionalism

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot

A frequently heard criticism is that Millennials/Gen Yers are short on what has been considered professionalism, a very significant attribute for succeeding in business and particularly in a professional service organization and role.
A poll from the Center for Professional Excellence (CPE) at York College of Pennsylvania suggests the importance of professionalism to one’s career. Assessments of a new college grad candidate’s professionalism accounted for almost 60 percent of hiring decisions – of mega-importance in this languishing period   of scarce jobs, especially for young people with little experience.
Professionalism was defined by the business leaders and human resources professionals polled as having five primary characteristics: personal interaction skills, including respect and courtesy; communications skills, including listening; a great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is finished; and self-confidence, awareness, and professional appearance.
Generational Definitions
Here are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

And the verdict from the poll as to whether professionalism has increased or declined in the past five years? One-third of the poll’s respondents believed that fewer than 50 percent of all new graduates exhibit professionalism in the workplace. The complaints will probably sound familiar; respondents pointed to a sense of entitlement for jobs, lack of work ethic, and changes in culture and values.
We can argue the interpretation or severity of the problem, or why it exists – and I would – particularly about how work ethic is interpreted and whether all cultural changes are a bad thing. But perceptions are the beholder’s reality. What is being/can be done to resolve the problem?
York College founded its CPE to teach its students professionalism. Other colleges and universities are developing their own approaches as they acknowledge the need to prepare their students for the real world. If colleges don’t teach it, will employers take on the responsibility? Professionalism must be part of a new, expanded orientation training the minute the new hires walk in the door.
This topic is one I cover in many of my workshops, master classes, and cross-generational conversation programs. It’s so important that I am planning another webcast on Professionalism and the Generations with a diverse panel. (Stay tuned or contact me: If you are thinking about expanding your organization’s orientation program to better address current needs, contact me for suggested topics and formats to help you plan.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2010. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners ( Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both West 2010). URL:
This is part of a series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.

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