Do certain things about your workplace rub you the wrong way? Do you go home at night and tell your family and friends that, if you were in charge, you would do things differently?
It could be a case of mis-aligned values. If your personal values and your company’s values are at odds, it may be difficult to feel at home there.
First, what do we mean by “values?” In a nutshell, your core values are those qualities that you hold most dear in life. They are an inner framework for how you make choices, your deepest motivators. What makes you tick, if you will. Your values are inner – not external – guides. So, if you say you value money… that may be true, but let’s take it to an internal realm. What does money give you? What is it about money that you value? Suppose you say that money gives you security. Then it’s more true that security is the real value. If security is truly important to you, it wouldn’t matter if you get it via money or some other means.
Other examples of values might be: Accomplishment, adventure, trust, order, fun, spiritual connection, freedom, integrity, intellect… the possibilities are endless. When I work with clients on uncovering their core values, it’s like going on a treasure hunt, digging deeper with each newly discovered gem!
When your values are being honored, you will feel a life-affirming “click.” Likewise, when your values are trampled on, you can feel the life drain right out of you. An easy way to discover and clarify your values is to notice situations that bring you alive – what values are being honored? And notice also when you feel discouraged, angry, agitated. It’s highly likely that one of your core values is not being honored.
Your employer has a set of core values, too. And I don’t mean that mission statement so eloquently framed on the wall. I’m talking about values in action – you can sense them in how management behaves in real situations. Perhaps the mission statement says “We are customer focused,” which you might interpret as valuing customers and serving them well. But in reality, you sit in on a weekly meeting strategizing how to get more business out of the highest revenue-generating customers and how to spend fewer resources on the “under-performing” customers. In truth – in action – your company values profits, not customers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! It’s how they pay you. It’s how they grow and add more employees and serve more customers. But if you feel squeamish about being asked to provide less service to certain customers, perhaps you have a core value of equality or respect that is not being honored in this situation. You may be experiencing the twinge of a mismatched value system.
Assuming that you basically like the company, like your work, and like the people, you can absolutely make a few tweaks that can increase the harmony you feel about your workplace. But if your values and your company’s values are severely out of alignment, it may be time for another job. It’s never a black and white thing, though. No one is ever 100% aligned with another’s values – the key is to assess the degree of difference and become keenly aware of your top values and whether they are honored in your current work situation.
Examples of Mis-matched Values:
- You have a value of integrity, but the company asks you to fudge the facts on reports.
- You have a value of camaraderie, but your work space is isolated and you have little contact with others.
- You have a value of creativity, but your job entails repetitive tasks with no variation.
The important thing to know is that your workplace is not responsible for honoring your values. Put another way: Your company is not to blame when your values are not honored. They may be jerks, they may ask you to lie, they may treat you terribly. But YOU are ultimately responsible for getting your needs met and your values honored. When you relinquish this responsibility to others (boss, co-workers, spouse, family, friends, the bank, the government…), you can expect to be miserable. The sooner you reckon with this responsibility, the better. Unless you are literally being bound and shackled and enslaved, you have a choice every single day to go to work or not. To resign or not. If you are letting a need for money enslave you in a miserable workplace, it’s time to re-evaluate your life’s priorities. You may need a different job. Or, in most cases, you can simply make changes in how you get your values honored.
Gimme Three Steps
- Study Your Own Values. What makes you tick? What qualities make life worth living? What qualities are missing when you are miserable?
- Study Your Company’s Values. Not the poetically stated ones, but the true values that emerge through daily practice. This is not an exercise in being judgmental. Your company has a right to create a certain culture and operate under the values that work for them. It’s up to you to recognize the differences and determine what you can live with and what needs to change.
- Study the Overlap. This is very personal – how much overlap do you need in order to find harmony at work? Are your most important core values in alignment with the company? If not, are you able to make peace with the difference? Or can you get those values honored outside of work?
Example: I have a client who has a very strong creativity value. He loves to solve problems and create something new out of nothing. But his job has him pushing papers and following a pre-set order. Very little creativity there. And a very draining existence for my client. The job pays well, has flexible hours and he enjoys most of his co-workers. He is choosing to keep this job while he works toward his dream career. Knowing he is staying by choice, he then takes responsibility for finding ways to honor his values, especially creativity. At work, he finds small sparks of creativity – decorating his cubicle with flair, initiating social outings with co-workers, and this Halloween, he got permission to hold a pumpkin-carving contest in the break room. At home, he makes a point to work on his music. These creative outlets give him just enough “juice” to feel content with his current job – a stable and uplifting backdrop as he works toward a new career.
That is a key point! He is not delaying happiness until his dream job begins. He is finding happiness right now, as he moves toward his dream. And because he is the one taking responsibility for his happiness by making sure his core values are honored, he feels more alive, more motivated than ever to keep marching toward the dream job.
Remember (sorry to sound preachy): YOU are responsible for getting your values honored. Use the comments to share how you are honoring your values – we can learn from each other!
Holy cow! I wish I had read your article about this time last year! I experienced mis-matched values as a high school teacher. For example, I was expected to lie to parents and tell them that their students really needed a co-taught math class, when in reality we simply did not have a teacher for small group math. I was also told that EVERYBODY had to pass, even though I believe that we learn our greatest lessons from failure. I witnessed some students learning great lessons from the “tension” they experienced as a result of their choice to fail. The tension awakened a desire to do well; what a miracle to see students who previously did not care “wake up!” THEY chose to succeed — which to me is a great enduring understanding. Their success was not a result of my enabling them.
I earned “teacher of the month” the last full year I taught and decided to stay another year; I loved the kids and wanted to “make a difference.” During the summer, my inner wisdom began speaking to me. I was uncomfortable going back. After a couple of months, I quit because I allowed myself to internalize the negativity in my workplace (that’s the Reader’s Digest version of what happened). This last year has been an exercise in self-discovery, and I am so grateful for the experience. However, it never occurred to me that I was not aligning myself with a school who valued the same things that I do. In hindsight, I should have left and found another school. *sigh*
Thank you for sharing your writing!
Linda — it looks like you DID find another school, the “school of self-discovery.” 🙂
I’m glad this was helpful re: aligning values. It’s cool to think that, with this new insight, your next venture will be more enjoyable and sustainable!
I have so much admiration for you — your seeking, learning, making things happen… and your integrity that told you not to go back to that toxic situation. That takes guts, for sure!
Thanks for reading!!
[…] un-cruel way, as I see it, is to work in a way that is fulfilling, rewarding and meshes with your values. The new way does not demand that work meet 100% of your needs. Let your work be just one of many […]