What are Work Values

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to understanding your work values:

You have to know yourself pretty well and be honest with what you value [out of work].

Okay, so let’s unpack that a bit because I think getting to the bottom of your core work values is critical.

Why Work Values Matter So Much

For the job hunt. For what line of work to go into. For work-life balance. For what kind of environment you’ll thrive in. In other words, if you want career engagement and fulfillment, you’re going to have to know your work values.


There’s all kinds of ways to find out your work values. There are all kinds of self-assessments you can take online. This one from University of Illinois’ Graduate College  is my favorite one for early career academics at the moment. I like theirs because it takes into account a number of things that matter *a ton* to academics, such as geography, independence, and growth of knowledge. There are a couple of things I would add to their list.

Knowing Your Need for Independence

First, how much do you value autonomy? Many academics pursue an advanced degree because part of what’s appealing about becoming faculty is being autonomous. Getting to design your courses. The freedom to adapt teaching methods as needed. The trust of higher-ups to allow you to structure and use your workday however you wish.

Working For Someone Whose Work You Believe In

Second, how important is it to you that your workplace’s values and mission align with what matters to you? I think they’re getting at it with the “social service” entry on their checklist, but for me, this is one of my guiding principles. I went into museum work because I believe in expanding access to informal learning. And now I work in professional development because I believe in lifelong learning and growth on the job. And the data show that for most employees – across most sectors, not just higher ed – people perform better when their personal values align with those of their organization. It just feels good to have personal and work values alignment.

You need to take a good hard look at your work values to get closer to career satisfaction. I find that when someone is feeling really dissatisfied at work, one of the root causes can be that the person’s work values are not well-understood, or are mismatched to their line of work or job.  If you’re not feeling the link above, here’s another terrific example of a work values self-assessment from Illinois State University.

Once You Identify Your Work Values, Use Them

So what do you do once you identify your work values? You put them to use for you during a job search or when developing your career plan for what’s next.

First, you start narrowing the focuses of your job search and career research to sectors and roles that are more likely to align with what you value. Where you live matters more than anything to you? Then maybe you prioritize companies that are where you want to be over the line of work…Working with students is key to keeping you engaged? Then you might not enjoy a “behind-the-scenes” sector like research administration or project management.

Second, once you find a job or company that interests you, you seek and read the organization’s values, vision, and mission to get a read on alignment with your work values.

If you know of other great work values exercises specific to higher ed, let me know!

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