What to Do When Your Values and Your Job No Longer Align

We all know about the importance of organizational values. Chances are good that your organization has redefined its mission statement or vision once or twice. But what about your personal values? We work hard to uncover and disseminate our organizational values, but most of us don’t give the same attention to personal values – until something directly threatens or conflicts with them. As an employee, when you discover that your personal values do not align with your organization’s values, what should you do?

How Do Values Become Misaligned?

An employee may believe his or her values align with those of the organization, until a situation demonstrates otherwise. Values are subtle and implicit – meaning we may not be consciously aware of them until they are questioned or threatened. For something that most employees do not give a lot of thought to, values are integral to our satisfaction with our careers; when it becomes apparent that your values do not match your organization’s, this can lead to a number of problems.

Let’s say that you deeply value fairness. You may not have been consciously aware of this until you witness people in your workplace being treated unjustly. For example, if you see an underqualified man being promoted ahead of an experienced, qualified woman, you may feel that the organization’s leadership has treated her unfairly. Suddenly, it becomes clear that your values do not align with those of the organization. What do you do now? What could you have done to avoid this scenario?

Inaction Can Kill Your Career

A conflict between personal values and workplace reality is an opportunity; it can be a career changing or even life-changing event, if you take action.

Unfortunately, many employees don’t feel comfortable acting on the disconnect they feel when personal and organizational values collide – even when it has caused them to feel disengaged from their jobs. Whether it’s from complacency or a fear of conflict, too many people “retire in place” and continue to work for organizations and executives whose values clash with their own. In the above example, to retire in place would be to witness the unfair promotion of the unqualified man and continue to work without expressing your opinion or raising your concerns. You may experience negative feelings such as guilt or frustration, or distrust of the leadership staff. But recognizing a misalignment of values and failing to act does not resolve the issue.

This is a dangerous behavior pattern, both professionally and personally. On the professional front, you may think you can control your emotions and hide your feelings, but this is a greatly underestimated challenge, and can cause untold stress. Ignoring your values can raise tension, fracture your working relationships, and more seriously, identify you as “the problem person” in your organization. Once that happens, you may end up facing a career change, but one you didn’t engineer yourself.

Avoid The Values Conflict: Get Clarity Now

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid the pitfalls of misaligned values and steer your career (and your life) in the right direction. It starts with clarifying your personal values.

When you take the time to reflect on what’s important to you, what motivates you, and what you seek from your organization, you will be more alert and prepared when your values are tested. That way, if you reach a point when you sense your values colliding with your work, you’ll feel a little “jangle” – a palpable discomfort that lets you know that something is out of alignment. That jangle is the first warning sign that you can use to get back on track, either by righting the situation within the organization or by deciding it’s time to leave.

Values change over the course of our lives, so it’s important to reassess yours from time to time – knowing your values means that you are in control of your personal brand – and prepared to take the appropriate action when your values are tested.

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