How to Be the Best YOU in an Institutional Setting

In Employee Training, Updates by Beth

A career in an institutional setting is quite different than any other environment that you may have worked in previously. It’s not what is most typically thought of when you think of a normal business office. Whether you work in a hospital, a jail or prison, a mental health facility, a recovery home, or any other residential setting: it is a distinct experience.

There are a host of physical, procedural and policy constraints that must be taken into consideration not only when you enter the institution, but that must also be maintained throughout the day. The obvious physical constraints represent only one part of working in an institutional setting. Of equal importance is how you conduct yourself. A first impression is a lasting one, so a new employee must establish themselves from the first day.

Keeping all of this in mind, an important part of this career path job is respect. Respect for yourself is foremost, and that you are respected by supervisors, peers and clients/inmates helps you to do your job successfully. Respect comes from conducting yourself as a professional who makes consistent, fair and honest decisions.

What does being professional look like?

According to The Merriam-Webster dictionary, professionalism is defined as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person,” and it defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.”

Professional behavior may not always include the ‘intensive academic preparation’ facet. Some staff members may not have college or advanced degrees, but ensuring appropriate behavior is important to the orderly operation of an institution, no matter what your education level. 

Professional employees will show compassion for others. This includes responding appropriately to the emotional response of patients and family members, demonstrating respect for others, and demonstrating a calm, compassionate, and helpful demeanor toward those in need. These traits represent some facets of a professional in an institutional environment.

Professionals know their business and display that knowledge in daily interactions with peers, clients and inmates. Some additional, important aspects of professional behavior include the following:

  • AppearanceThe way you dress reflects how you feel about your work, and how others see you and your company. While the institution setting requires uniforms for security and medical staff, others select their attire. How you dress speaks volumes. Dressing well will not only increase your self-confidence, but it will also impress other people. It is advisable that you dress on the conservative side and remember both the clientele and type of work you do.
  • Reliability – A reliable person has a track record of keeping promises and getting the job done promptly and completed accurately. The benefits of being reliable include promotions at work, better personal relationships, and increased self-esteem. With reliability comes trust from your peers and employer.
  • Demeanor – Is how your behavior is received by others. Professional demeanor can be positive or negative depending on how you manage your daily interactions with others. Let’s face it, there are days that you don’t want to be positive, but the benefits of being upbeat will pay off.
  • Competence – A professional employee will demonstrate their competence by doing their job to the best of their ability. This must include developing expertise and skill in the job function, as well as staying current with applicable training to increase knowledge in the job.
  • Ethics  Is the ability to know the difference between right or wrong, moral and immoral, and good and bad behavior when dealing with one another. Ethics are moral principles that guide a person’s behavior. Ethics are demonstrated in how we deal with others in the world around us, but also in how we conduct ourselves with others in the workplace including both clients and inmates.

How do you make it all work so you can be the best professional employee?

Beginning on the first day, establish professional boundaries. Let your co-workers and supervisors know that you are here to be the best staff member at the facility, but that you will not be sharing personal information about yourself. Work is work and you are not looking for friendships with clients, inmates or even peers. Instead, professional boundaries ensure you’ll be able to set a tone of what is acceptable and what is not. 

It sounds simple, but it is not always easy. Once you establish professional boundaries, you must maintain them – and that is the difficult part. Many co-workers will not have the same standards that you have established for yourself. To be successful, you must have your own house in order and remember that you are there to perform a needed function: to provide a service to clients and inmates. 


Mason, G. (2016), The 10 Characteristics of Professionalism, Retrieved from  Accessed on April 24, 2020.
Norton, A. (2010), 10 things that define a true professional  Accessed on April 24, 2020