The Institute of Leadership & Management, in collaboration with Glassdoor, has today released new research ‘Colliding or Aligning: reconciling personal and organisational values’, which reveals a disconnect between the values championed by organisations and the personal values held by employees. Here, Kate Cooper, Head of Research, Policy & Standards at The Institute discusses these findings and explores why the alignment of values is important for our personal wellbeing.

Tammy Erikson speaking at the 2012 Global Drucker Forum, identified 12 things that she believed were no longer true, one of these was a fundamental misunderstanding that all our employees value basically the same things. This false assumption, that we know what other people value and that their values align with our own, is commonplace.

Canadian psychoanalyst and management consultant, Elliot Jaques, was one of the first to recognise the importance of values in organisations.  Since then many academics and practitioners have identified the importance of values, devised tools and models to calculate and describe them, and more recently, marketing professionals have considered articulation of brand values as essential. It’s increasingly recognised that brands are no longer owned and controlled by the organisations who have the copyright of the trademark of the brand, brands are defined by all stakeholders, those who feel they share a sense of the values that the brand represents to them.

Being connected with our organisation’s values brings meaning to our working lives and it is undoubtedly the case that meaningful work contributes to overall wellbeing. In 2017, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, published a report entitled Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’. The report outlined “seven steps towards fair and decent work with realistic scope for development and fulfilment”. Taylor’s 7 steps recommend that we define who is a 'worker', pay attention to the minimum wage and the impact of piece-work and zero-hours contracts, not only on pay but also on holiday and sick pay.

Surely the next step has to be consideration of values and how we find meaning in our work?  But however important to our working day, the whole idea of values and their role in organisational life extends beyond the basic of good work and the feeling of being valued by managers and colleagues - values underpin our entire lives.

Recognising this crucial role of values, The Institute of Leadership & Management undertook our latest research Colliding or Aligning: reconciling personal and organisational values’, asking leaders and managers about organisational values and their own personal values.  Not surprisingly, there was a disconnect. Only 35% of respondents reported being involved in deciding their organisation’s values, and fewer than 10% of respondents reported any consultation with customers or stakeholders outside the organisation. The majority of organisations decide their values at Board and executive management level. In fact, the only people with significant involvement were those in senior management teams, which means almost total exclusion of younger voices, notably the millennials whom we hear so frequently seek meaning in work.

Delivering a presentation at a recent Institute conference, Mike Fetters of Glassdoor, our research partner, emphasised how important a company’s values are, in order to attract talented people. Does this disconnect, this exclusion from the formulation of the values that senior management expect employees to live and behave in accordance with, matter? It matters because we need to find meaning in our work to be fully engaged and to want to go that important ‘extra mile’ we hear so much about.

The importance of this consistency between our values and our behaviour was highlighted in 1957 by Leon Festinger. He described a lack of alignment as ‘cognitive dissonance’, a state that most humans find uncomfortable and seek to reduce by changing either beliefs or behaviour to close that gap. The most commonly cited organisational value in the Institute research was ‘respect’, whereas the value held most highly by individuals is ‘integrity’.

Few people would disagree with the importance of respect but if we examine what respect actually means, it incorporates holding someone in high regard and having regard for their feelings. If this value is genuinely lived there would be no need to identify such values as diversity, inclusivity and equality, as they would be part of the everyday interactions in the organisation. If people are equal and respected, then workplaces would be truly inclusive places where people are not only engaged in good work but there be no disconnect between their personal values and those of their employer.

Recent BITC research in which The Institute was a national partner, certainly suggests this is not the case.  Minority groups reported a higher incidence of mental health conditions, 79% of LGBT+ people reported experiencing mental health problems where work is the source, with 32% hiding or disguising their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination.   25% of LGBT+ employees with disabilities reported being encouraged by work colleagues to hide their sexual orientation whereas only 6% with no reported disability received similar advice.

Tammy Erikson questioned the belief that somehow everyone in an organisation values the same thing in 2012. In 2017 the Taylor Review highlighted the importance of the employee voice, and work that is adequately rewarded. The Institute of Leadership & Management research recognises a disconnect between personal and organisational values and BITC research suggests that a commitment to diversity isn’t the lived experienced of minority groups at work.

This body of work is a reminder to us all to revisit our own values, to examine the role of work in our lives and to appreciate the strong connection between values and our well-being at work and at home. I would like to offer you the opportunity to do that this week, and join us at International Leadership Week (18-21 Nov) where we will continue to investigate personal and organisational values with some of the world’s most well-respected thought-leaders, authors and business leaders; we are delighted to have four of the world’s Top 50 Thinkers speaking. It will be a fascinating exploration which I’m sure will uncover both similar personal values despite geographical, political, religious and cultural differences as well as interesting local challenges important to us all in our global market place. Join us for free.