Feeling unappreciated, conflicted, drained, frustrated and disconnected are words I hear a lot as a coach when people are talking about their career.  However, knowing why these feelings exist is not always so clear to my clients.  Knowing something is wrong, but not being able to articulate exactly what is driving these feelings can make it hard to know how to rectify the situation.

For many when we dig further it’s a case of a clash of values.  What is important to the individual is not matched, is not aligned with the organisation they are working for.  Sometimes this can be obvious for example when an individual prioritizes environmental issues in their life, but an organisation puts profit before the environment.  Or when an individual thrives on developing and growing yet opportunities to learn and progress within an organisation are limited.  However, sometimes it isn’t so obvious and instead what we do know is that something isn’t right.

Knowing your personal values is the foundation to finding fulfilling work.  But what do we mean by values?  Put simply – its what is important to you, however, what is important to you will change with the context.  At the highest level we will have our life values which are things that are important to us across everything we do.  Underneath there is another level of values depending on the context, for example relationship or career values.  Trust may be important in both a relationship and career, but humour may only be a priority in a relationship.

We can have plans or goals in life, and it is our values which can help explain why these goals are important to us.  Our values will dictate our actions and will motivate us.  We will also use them to interprate information and to apply meaning to situations.  They are what attracts us to something or someone and what repulses us from something or someone.

How do you identify your career values?  There are many ways in which you can do this.  For some people you can sit and write a list by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is important to me in the context of my career?

Write down everything you can think of (we are looking for words or short phrases).

       2.  If all these values were in place, is there anything else that would cause you to leave?  If yes add this item to your list.

       3.  If all these values were fulfilled is there anything else that would keep you?

Now prioritise these and identify your top 6 to 8.

Another way is to reflect on your career and think about all the roles you have had the different projects and assignments you were involved in.  Identify your highlight those times when you were at your happiest and conversely identify the low points.

  1. When you look at the high points what were the values that were present? 
  2. Now focusing on the low points what were the values that were missing which would have made a difference?

Finding out your values and thinking about how these align to your organisation can be a liberating exercise as it can help to explain your negative emotions.

But what do you do about it?

Changing an organisation’s values may not be something within your power, particularly if you work for a large organisation, however, if engagement is low and attrition of staff is high the chances are you are not alone, maybe your role is to bring awareness to this disconnect.  However, changing values and the culture of the organisation (how they live and breathe their values) is something that takes time and requires focused commitment.

This may seem too big a task or may be you feel you are beyond this point, in which case it is about using your energy to take stock and to think about what you want for your life going forward and how in the interim you can make your working life more tolerable.  (See blog below for ideas.)

If a lateral progression is on the cards (moving to another organisation in a similar role), make sure you get a handle on the values of potential organisations.  Most company website will include blurb around their values but don’t take this at face value.  As you speak to different people ask them what people need to be successful, what the organisation values in its people and be clear about how this aligns with your values.  Look at your values and develop questions to ask to understand if they are important to the organisation.  For example if recognition is important to you find out what formal and informal recognition practices are in place.  If work life balance is key, ask them how they support people in creating balance between their work and personal life.  The end of the interview when you are asked if you have any questions is an ideal opportunity for you to do your own values check.

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