Sunday, 2 September 2012

Being Professional is a Religious Calling

I cannot possibly discuss professionalism in its entirety within the limited space of a short blog entry so I will only touch on what I have personally experienced in my life. Most people will associate being professional with excellence in job performance maintained within high standards of ethics. To put it simply, being professional is executing a job to the best of one’s ability and adhering to high ethical standards. To do a job skillfully and well, one needs training and continuous updating of one’s knowledge. In my observation a lot of people can learn to be skillful at their jobs but I cannot really tell if just as many people also continue to update these skills and knowledge to be better at what they do, and even less so with regards to people who strictly adhere to high codes of conduct when executing their duties. To adhere to high ethical standards one needs to constantly be aware that God is watching.

To start off it is always a good idea to have a personal key performance index, even if one’s company or workplace does not require it. A KPI helps with professional goal-setting and will keep us on our toes, so to speak. Otherwise our goals are vague (or non-existent!) and performance is minimal. With a KPI we get to charter and measure our own developments and see if we not only meet but exceed our set goals. A job will become routine and boring and eventually lead to poor performance without a sincere aim to be excellent at it, and I think that setting clear, smart goals (with or without an official KPI) will help increase professionalism in this respect.

Secondly it is important to remove personal agenda when at work. Pursuing personal interests during company time and/or using company resources (like the computer, printer, phoneline, etc) is one example of unethical behaviour. However, it would appear that this is taken lightly by a lot of people. In Islam this is not permissible. I remember a story of when Sayyidina Umar al Khattab was caliph, he would never use office property even when it was just a matter of lighting a candle, to resolve family issues. Being a man in office he surely was entitled to some privileges but he never took advantage of his position to gain ease in his personal life. Company time should be used to increase professional development so that one is more productive and a better representation of the company and of oneself.

Allowing emotions to rule decision-making is also a mark of poor professionalism and should be avoided. Refusing participation in a team because it involves someone we do not like is an example. Personal differences should be set aside in the interest of duty; the aim is always the job, the client/patient/student and the employer, not personal comfort. We need to be objective at all times, but use reason wisely when the situation requires it. On this note, we should be bold enough to take responsibility of our actions and learn not to be a yes-man at work although obeying rules is indeed an element of being objective. It frustrates employers, colleagues and clients when we commit to unquestioning obedience and dare not take responsibility for anything at all. I have had the unfortunate experience of being the victim of such cowardice several times. It slows things down and generally is counterproductive when you cannot make your own decisions and have to wait for a superior’s green light every time. Worse is when the superior needs approval from a higher superior before a decision can be made. I can well understand it when the decision is a big one, but sometimes the matter is so small it is ridiculous to have three layers of managers to okay it.

To end this short entry I would just like to urge my brothers and sisters in Islam to approach work as an ibaadah, a service to Almighty Allah. When we do a job in His name being professional would come naturally. Be sincere, and not expect material rewards for our efforts. God watches all, and no atom of good deed will go unnoticed and unrewarded. Even when the pay is small, there is always that aspect of barakah, or growth, that makes a little seem like a lot. And barakah isn’t only measured in monetary terms but also welcome things in other facets of our life like peace and contentment. If all this seems hard, don’t forget the power of prayer. Ask and work towards being professional, and He will guide us to it.

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