We all know what it's like to feel miserable at a job — to feel like it's just not the right fit for who we are, what we want and how we want to achieve our goals. But how many of us have thought about this predicament in terms of aligning what we do with what our core values are? Knowing what kind of work you find fulfilling and why, as well as what you want a job or career to add to your life, is so important. Your work values play a much larger role in overall job satisfaction than most of us realize.
What are core work values?
Your ethics and values form your world view. Honesty, kindness and doing acts of service can all be things you hold so close to your heart as the "right" way to be that they form a part of your identity. In much the same way, your professional identity is shaped by your work values. These are the precepts that inform your daily behavior and interactions with customers, coworkers and your superiors. They dictate your career choices as well.
They're also the backbone of what value you draw out of the work you do. Why? Because work values are a two-sided coin. On the one side is you as an employee and what you pride yourself on being able to do. On the other side is what your job ideally brings into your life. For example, you may pride yourself on your consistently high performance on your assigned projects (side one), while also valuing the recognition you get for that same thing (side two). Your work values dictate how you behave in the professional sphere, as well as what that professional realm brings to your personal life in terms of fulfillment.
What are examples of work values?
Below, we've listed common work values based on whether they speak to personal or professional needs.
• Service-oriented work/helping others.
Many of us like to feel our work somehow contributes to the world in a positive way by making an impact on people's lives. You may value work that lets you help others because it brings you a sense of pride to do so.
• Schedule flexibility.
Being able to tailor your work schedule around your life is a major work value for anyone with a lot of their own responsibilities or personal priorities.
• Work environment.
Not everyone is cut out for a fast-paced work environment. Folks whose personal work values include a quiet or calm atmosphere will naturally gravitate toward careers that are known for exactly that kind of chill office vibe.
• Working alone or with others.
Some of us absolutely love being able to work by ourselves with very little outside supervision. Others prefer a more social workday, with coworkers who might even become friends.
Having a job that is in no danger of being outsourced, becoming outdated or otherwise lacking in long-term security holds no appeal for you.
Everybody wants to earn a livable wage, but some set a six-figure income — or more — as one of their main professional goals. Those of us who do this will value positions with high-earning potential over ones that fulfill other values.
It's nice to receive recognition for hard work. Many people are motivated by making a name for themselves or winning awards. They value those markers of progress and performance.
A lot of people's work values center on room for advancement in a given company or on a career path. They want to end up somewhere "higher" than where they started.
How to figure out your workplace values.
1. Look at your work history up to this point.
Which jobs and what kind of work have been the most/least satisfying?
2. Create a personal "work value inventory."
Searching for this online will bring up lists of values you can rank in terms of their importance to you.
3. Explore your personal work values in much the same way.
The internet abounds with personality tests, which are fun but can also lead you through some productive self-investigation. Your goal is to figure out what values you hold essential to living a good or successful life.
4. Meet with a career counselor or advisor.
You can discuss the values you know you have, explore new ones and talk about what career moves might be best for you.
5. Take some time to think about and write down where you want to be in five or 10 years, both professionally and personally.
Think in detail: what kind of workdays do you want to have, do you want to buy a house or have kids and what would your ideal paycheck be?
6. Decide if you even want a career or if having "just" a job is fine with you.
Not centering your personal life goals around a corner office or title means your work values will focus more, perhaps, on finding a pleasant work environment.
7. Call in a friend — or even better a mentor.
Have a conversation about their values, the career choices they've made and their perspective on what work values they see you having. Their view may surprise you and point you in a direction you hadn't considered.
8. Just start working.
If you're new to the working world, simply applying for jobs that sound interesting and close to what you think you want is the best way to start uncovering what your core work values are. Experience will show you what is and isn't right for you.
9. Try something new.
If you've always held the same type of jobs, trying something outside your comfort zone will be an eye-opening experience. If you don't want to make the big leap of outright switching career tracks, taking on a weekend or part-time job is an excellent way to explore new directions. You may end up realizing you value something you've never even thought of before.
10. Divide the values you find along the way into personal and professional categories.
Then think about which set is more important to you at this moment. If you're focused on personal goals, lean into the personally beneficial values you found (such as that flexible schedule) more than, say, a bigger paycheck.
How to find a company culture that's right for you.
1. Be secure in your work values, and know what you really need from a company to feel happy/successful/fulfilled.
2. Seek out companies and positions that already seem to align with those core work values.
3. Research those companies further via job search boards and resources like LinkedIn
4. Seek out reviews of any companies you're now considering applying to. Look at employee reviews, of course, but also customer reviews and other public feedback as well.
5. Study the company's social media and brand stories they're selling. Do their core messages align with your core work values?
6. Come up with questions to ask during your interview. Be prepared to discuss your needs and work values, too. Remember, you're vetting them at the same time that they're interviewing you.
The bottom line.
Understanding your work values lets you make better and more informed professional decisions, which are key to getting yourself a job or a career that makes you feel good about what you do and how you do it. Whatever you define "good" or "successful" to be, have no doubt that at the heart of that definition are your work values, the things you hold most dear. Stay true to those, and you won't go wrong.