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What Are Work Values & Why You Should Identify Yours

What are work values & why you should identify yours

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • Values: Intrinsic and Extrinsic
  • Identifying Your Work Values
  • Examples of Values
  • Beyond Values

Have you ever been unhappy at work? Really, truly, Sunday-night-is-ruined because-you’re-dreading-Monday-morning unhappy? If you have, you know it’s a terrible feeling - and you might be worried about having that feeling again at a new job.

Regardless of how much you liked (or hated) your last position, a career transition is an opportunity to find a role that works for you, in a place where you feel comfortable and supported. That means understanding the root of where career unhappiness comes from.

Everyone develops a unique set of core values in their life - qualities, beliefs, and ideas that you think are important, even essential. Your work values are a subset of those values directly related to your occupation. 

These values are a core part of who you are. If you are in an environment that doesn’t reflect those values, it’s going to make you feel dissatisfied. 

For example, if you value creativity and exploration, but you have a job that is rigid and repetitive, you’re going to be unhappy. If you value autonomy and freedom, and you work for an employer where every minute is monitored, you’re going to be unhappy. If you value time with your family but your work requires you to travel often and work 80-hour weeks, you’re going to be unhappy.

This might seem obvious, but many of us start off willing to compromise ourselves for our job, just at the beginning - and then it doesn’t stop. This week’s posts are designed to help you avoid this burnout in your next role.

In order to make sure your values are aligned with those of your potential employer, it’s important to first clearly understand what your values are.

Values: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

First, understand that there are actually two different kinds of values regarding your career: Intrinsic and Extrinsic values.

Intrinsic values are values related to the actual tasks and work that you do at your job. If you know that you gather joy from solving complex problems, helping others, or working with your hands - those are all values you have that are intrinsic to the type of work you want to do.

Extrinsic values are those connected to the results or by-products of a job. These are the things you get from your work, not what you put into it. Things like recognition, earning potential, and job security are all examples of extrinsic values.

In general, your intrinsic values will be better indicators of what you want to do - meaning the types of roles you want - and your extrinsic values will be better indicators of where you want to do it - meaning the company or environment. There is some overlap between the two, though.

Identifying Your Work Values

Identifying your values early in the career transition process will save you a lot of time and frustration later. It will allow you to target specific companies and roles that match your values, and not waste time applying to places that don’t. In other words, it makes your job hunt smarter.

The easiest way to determine your values is through a self-assessment tool called a work value inventory. This may sound complex, but it’s really just a list of values you have, in order of priority.

There are many pre-made lists of work values online you can find online. (O*Net has some you can get started with.) We’ll also include some examples in this article. If you’re working with a career coach, they may be able to provide you with a list as well.

Once you have a list in front of you, try to narrow down the ones that mean the most to you. Pay attention to which ones are intrinsic and which ones are extrinsic values. If you can bring your list down to three of each, that’s good. A mix of each in your Top-5 is also good.

Try to write your values down in order of importance, but be careful not to overthink - the bottom of your top five is still the top five.

Examples of Values

To help you get started, here are some of the types of things that could appear on a work value inventory. This is just a small selection to get you started, you can find many more by searching.

As you go through these values and other ones you find, write down the ones which feel important to you. Then from that shortlist, cut it down to a top-three or top-five, and organize those by order of importance.

There’s flexibility with this, but remember that you ultimately want to end up with a SMALL number of values. (Think less than seven.) If you decide everything is equally valuable, then nothing really is.

  • Achievement: Seeing the results of your work.

  • Independence: Working and making decisions on your own 

  • Recognition: Getting credit and attention for your work and achievements, especially from higher-ups

  • Relationships: Working with people closely, internally or externally

  • Support: Having a system of people or resources to help you do your best work, especially supportive management

  • Working Conditions: Being in an environment that you're comfortable with

  • Autonomy: Being left to your own devices, receiving little or no supervision

  • Prestige: Having high standing in your company, community, or society.

  • Development: Having opportunities to grow skills or learn new things

  • Guidance: Receiving plenty of training, oversight, or coaching

  • Helping Others: Assistance to individuals or groups

  • Helping Society: Contributing to the betterment of the world or a community

  • Job Security: A high probability that you will remain employed

  • Advancement: Opportunities to move forward/be promoted in your career

  • Collaboration: Working with others

  • Schedule Flexibility: Setting your own schedule, some or all of the time

  • Remote Work: Not being restricted to one location

  • Compensation: Receiving high/adequate pay

  • Utilizing Your Background: Ensuring your job relies on skills from your education and work experience

  • Leadership: Opportunity to supervise or manage others 

  • Creativity/Expression: Using your own ideas to accomplish tasks, especially if they involve some form of artistic talents

  • Variety: Frequently doing different activities

  • Routine: Having a set, predictable, pattern of activities.

  • Challenge: Performing tasks that are difficult or new to you

  • Leisure/Work-Life Balance: Having adequate time away from work

  • Influence: Impacting people's opinions and ideas, or the outcomes of work

  • Thrill-Seeking: High-risk situations regularly occur

  • Risk-Aversion: Avoiding risky situations.

Beyond Values

Your values aren’t the only traits to consider when you decide what roles are right for you, but they are a good place to start. Other traits, like your interests, aptitudes, personality type, goals and preferred lifestyle also play a factor in where you should work and what you should do.

Some of these can be identified through assessments and surveys. If you’re working with a career coach, ask them for ways to identify these traits and implement them into your job search strategy.

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