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Values & Career: Spare Change or Big Investment

By Leah Clark , Director, Strategy & Development

Have you ever wondered why so many individuals are unhappy at work? Not the “My office mate doesn’t clean the refrigerator” kind of unhappy, but profoundly unhappy at their job and, more broadly, with their career?

With unemployment in the United States at the lowest it’s been since August of 2007, one might think lots of employed individuals means lots of happy employees. The truth is that employment doesn’t equal happiness when that job fails to align with what’s important to you as an individual. When work isn’t working out, it’s time to take a step back and consider the relationship that values and job satisfaction has in our lives.

Knowing who you are and what you want begins with reflecting on your values . Very often when individuals are unhappy with their life or their job it is because they are living in a way that is inconsistent with deeply held values. Each of us has several values, and when one or more of them are not being satisfied, we are (sometimes unknowingly) unhappy. What improving job satisfaction boils down to is this: In the context of feeling fulfilled in our careers, are we working for spare change or are we making a true investment in our lives?

Rather than race through your career or move robotically through the paces of life, check-in with yourself. Improving job satisfaction is about more than just naming your values, or owning your values. This is about thinking through whether or not those values truly reflect the core of who you are or who you want to be, and then examining if you are living those values in your daily life. It may sound touchy-feely, but the benefits are real. When we act in accordance to our values, we are engaged, excited, and willing to extend discretionary effort to our work  and our lives. When the opposite is true, we are just punching the clock until the day is over.

Sometimes, an introspective look is necessary to learn how to improve your job satisfaction. Determining whether those values are truly yours, rather than actually belong to society or someone else in your life, is a vital piece to this. It is easy to get caught up in what we should do, rather than what is inherent to who we are.

Some things to look for in determining how to improve job satisfaction includes:

  • Absolute or “Should”? Ask, “How did this value become important to me?” No matter where values come from, you must be clear on whether a value is internally driven – an absolute value – or externally driven – a “should” value which is driven by society, family, or friends. Don’t shape your career around “should” values. You’ll only wind up unhappy and resenting others for this choice.
  • Means Ends: Ask, “Why is this value important to me?” If the value is important as an end in itself, you will answer, “because it’s who I am,” with no other logical explanation. But if the value is a means to an end, your answer will be another value. For example, “I value money because it allows me the freedom to be with my family.” Spending time with family is the absolute value here, not money.
  • Words Actions: Ask, “Do I really live my life in a manner consistent with this value?” Review the values you say are important to you. Are your everyday decisions and behaviors consistent with them? Are you walking the walk?
  • Pleasant Memories: Ask, “When was I happiest, proudest, or most excited?” Think back to two or three of these situations and ask, “Which values were satisfied by this occasion?” Chances are these values were – and may still be – very important to you.
  • Past Regrets: Think back to situations, or times in your life when you were unhappy, frustrated, or deflated. Ask yourself, “What would I do differently if I could live that part of my life over?” Odds are that during this regretful time of your life, some of your core values were not being satisfied.

There is value in checking in with yourself using these questions on a periodic basis. Improving employee satisfaction can begin with a brief daily “values inventory” performed at the end of each workday  to see where you experienced discomfort and why. Then, once you feel like you’ve gotten to the crux of your core value issues, continue to check in periodically.  Alignment, or misalignment with values, often reveals itself in layers.  Once you identify your core values and align with them, other values may be triggered and you can address them the same way.

While values are paramount to who we are and why we do the things we do, values alone are not enough to improve job satisfaction. Competency, advocacy, resilience, and networking also play a major role in determining career fit. Once you know your values, and you know what you want (not what you “should” pursue), ensuring a good career fit will require the advocacy to find the opportunity and to express your values, the competency to succeed in that role, the resilience to bounce back from any setbacks, and the network to open doors and unleash opportunities. However, values are where we start. Without them, you’ll be charting a course toward a career that may result in disappointment.

For years, BlessingWhite has focused on values as a core aspect of understanding who we are as leaders, and as individuals. Values are a foundational component to the work that we do in the areas of career, leadership and engagement.

About the Authors

GP Strategies Corporation
GP Strategies is a global performance improvement solutions provider of sales and technical training, e-Learning solutions, management consulting and engineering services. GP Strategies' solutions improve the effectiveness of organizations by delivering innovative and superior training, consulting and business improvement services, customized to meet the specific needs of its clients. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing, process and energy industries, and other commercial and government customers.

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