Motivate Your Employees by Aligning Their Work with Their Personal Values

“The myth of management is that your personal values are irrelevant or inappropriate at work.”

Stan Slap, CEO of Slap Company (International Consulting Firm)1




Is there a case of misaligned values?







Values are enduring patterns of belief that we, as individuals, consider to be fundamentally important in our personal lives. They consciously or unconsciously guide our thoughts and actions. The alignment of values also forms the basis on which a group of people might flock together – like runners running for a common cause, or activists rallying against an unfavorable policy. Values influence who we get close to and forge stronger friendships with. In some ways, values help define our individuality. However, are values really only relevant to our personal lives? How many of us pay attention to values in the context of our jobs and organizations?

In my previous role as an HR Business Partner, I was required to staff employees on technology projects. There would be some employees who had to take on projects that did not necessarily match their interests because of the business needs. I would face strong push-backs but had to hold my ground. This was not easy for me. Years later, I found myself reflecting on what made that task so emotionally taxing for me.

I realized that it was because I was going against a value that I hold very closely – that of autonomy and free will. I believe everyone has the right to make their own choices and decisions. And in making project decisions for employees, I was taking away their rights which had an impact on their careers. This dissonance, between what I valued versus how my job required me to act (against those values), in some ways was a source of internal conflict and some degree of stress. This got me thinking about how, in subtle ways, our jobs might require us to exhibit behaviors that directly contradict with our inner values.

Situations which cause a dissonance in a person’s value systems might cause feelings of stress, anxiety and low energy. This could eventually affect the person’s motivation and engagement. Helping employees align their work with their value systems is one of the ways in which managers can motivate employees and drive engagement. Hence, as managers, we should seek to understand an employee’s value system and help our staff navigate through situations where there is a value conflict.



Here are a few suggestions to help your employees minimize or more effectively deal with situations of value conflict, during routine work or episodes of organizational changes:

1. Person-job fit – During recruiting, it might help to test for match on value systems2, between the individual and the tasks he or she would be appraised on. Somebody who values certainty and routine might not be able to fit in an entrepreneurial set up.

2. Person-environment fit – An individual’s personality and value system could impact the individual’s needs from the environment. An introvert might value a more silent workspace, whereas an extravert might prefer greater teamwork. As managers, do you account for these differences and set behavioral norms for the team? Do you provide workplace flexibility options to cater to values like social service or fitness that might require employees to flex their work schedule?

3. Increase self-awareness of values – Your employees might not be aware of what values they implicitly hold onto. So, in the event of a value conflict, they might not be cognizant of the source of their internal feelings of discomfort, if any. You can use several tools3 like personality assessments, self-reflection sessions, 360-degree assessments and formal coaches to help your employees discover their values.

4. Encourage collaboration and teaming of people with complementary value systems – Ever noticed that your team members naturally gravitate towards some people and not others? Even if you have not, it doesn’t hurt to ask each member “who do you like to work with and why?” The answers you gather will illuminate their value systems enough for you to group the complementary members for the synergy that produces effective work.

5. Acknowledge the value conflict – There might be situations wherein the value conflict cannot be resolved. In such a case, it is still helpful to acknowledge the conflict and have a candid dialogue about the same. The empathy goes a long way in helping the person adapt to the situation.

Food for thought:

1. What kind of values do your management practices implicitly endorse (e.g. perceptions of fairness or honesty)?

2. Is there a conflict in what is expected behavior versus what really gets rewarded? A classic example here is of managers who expect employees to collaborate but reward individual performance. The incentives generally drive what employees value as a collective.

3. Are you sensitive to the ways in which various factors (e.g. cultural background, education, familial norms or specific experiences) have shaped the value system of your colleagues or employees that you most closely work with?






Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone. They do not reflect the opinions of any firm or institution with whom the author is, or might have been, associated.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends, leave a comment or sign up for our news.

Contact Us to learn more about our services in Learning & Organizational Change, Leadership Development, Employee Engagement, and Large Scale Program Management.
Swati Sarupria

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *