Values at Work: A Survey of What’s Important to Us

Maintaining job satisfaction is related to aligning our work values with our workplace. In this post, we look at the top three work values defined by respondents in a recent on-line survey.

Our values are born from our interaction with the world around us. As we have more interactions with the world, our values will change. If we look at the economy and workplace today, many of us may value Security. The layoffs, restructuring, buyouts, mergers and many other organizational events are promoting the growth of the drive for this value. This is understandable. If you don’t have a job, then you don’t have a salary, benefits or future employment. We set out to find what people currently value at work. Using the list of values developed by Tim Butler at Harvard Business School, we created an on-line survey and present the top three values identified by respondents.

Before we get to results, let’s talk about values for moment. Values are intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsically motivated individuals tend to engage in activities that satisfy their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. They value personal growth and self-development. They possess a sense of participation, choicefulness and freedom. Extrinsically motivated individuals tend to strive more for the material rewards of their work; that is, money, power and materialistic ambitions.

In our on-line survey, we asked respondents to rate themselves on the following values: affiliation, altruism, autonomy, financial gain, intellectual challenge, lifestyle, managing people, positioning (growth potential), power & influence, prestige, recognition, security and variety. The top three values are shown below.

Intellectual challenge and lifestyle are intrinsic motivators, while financial gain is extrinsic. At first glance, it appears that even though our economy is suffering, employee motivation isn’t impacted so much since employees are driven more by internal factors. Intrinsically motivated individuals adopt this motivation because it fulfills their basic needs. If you think back to Maslow’s hierarchy, they are possibly working on maintaining self-esteem and reaching self-actualization.

As we know, external factors can influence our beliefs, which we try to align with our values. If we believe that organizations are tightening down on sharing money, power, prestige and all of those other goodies that we chase, we may begin to lose value for them. So, we find other things that we think we can get that are important to us.

We like to think that we know what we value. If our environment doesn’t have it, we change the environment to get it. Or…maybe, we just change our values if we feel we can’t change our environment, such as in times when the environment is already changing rapidly.

Another look at these results could be that we have high levels of uncertainty about the work environment so we choose to straddle the fence between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In this way, we can achieve our goals through one factor we may be able to control while we maintain high hopes for the one we can’t.

The last question we posed to respondents was related to the presence of the factors they deemed important. We wanted to know if they were fulfilling their needs. Numerous responses indicated that they were not all present in their work place. This reduced their job satisfaction. However, with the economy is such bad shape, they chose not to act on it. So do you think if this continues, they’ll adjust their values?

Self-assessment is an important part of your career. Your work values should be understood and assessed as they can have a major impact on your job satisfaction. If you know what’s important to you, you can always work to make sure you are fulfilling those needs. The more you get them, the happier you’ll be and the more likely you are to achieve the success you seek.


Todd Rhoad is Director at BT Consulting, a career consulting firm in Altanta, and can be reached at

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