08/01/2023

Values Clarity: Why it Matters in Career Development

By Anush Hansen

Case Study: Andrew

Andrew is a 33-year-old electrical engineer working for a consulting firm. He sought out career counseling because the pace, workload, and hours required at his job was exhausting and unsustainable. He wanted to spend his free time exploring the outdoors, playing soccer with friends, and being with his fiancé; however, he was either too exhausted or depressed to leave the house, or he felt extreme guilt and shame for not working more. Andrew was struggling with daily panic attacks, ruminating thoughts about work, insomnia, and irritability, and his relationship with his fiancée was suffering.

On paper, Andrew had a successful career. He was earning a six-figure salary and was happy with his project portfolio, which tapped into his natural strengths, interests, and skills; however, he rarely had time to focus on actual project work due to constant interruptions and competing demands from his clients and manager. The overarching culture of his firm was to take on as many clients as possible (without hiring additional staff) and to be available to coworkers and clients 24/7, compounding an already unmanageable workload. Andrew felt trapped, emotionally exhausted, and hopeless. He often spent counseling sessions in tears, and stated; “This cannot be my life”.

Clients with stories like Andrew’s show up for career counseling every day. They are hard-working employees, from every industry, dedicated to their jobs and employers. They have followed all the rules for career “success”, and have been encouraged to achieve the next level in their career, and then the next, often at the expense of their health and relationships, leading to burnout. A work culture that perpetuates chasing achievement at all costs simply is not realistic or sustainable. While employers may drive and reward employees with impressive job titles and high salaries, it does not matter much if the result is a burned-out workforce trying to survive jobs in environments and cultures that are making them sick. 

Useful Frameworks for Understanding Values

Regardless of whether an individual is doing work they love and are naturally good at, if their values are misaligned with those of their employer’s, it’s a recipe for dissatisfaction, disengagement, and burnout. Harvard Business School Professor and happiness researcher Arthur Brooks explains, “Decades of studies have shown that the people most satisfied with their work are those who find a fundamental match between their employer’s values and their own” (Brooks, 2021, para. 7).

While knowing one’s values won’t alone help clients choose a career direction, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of what is held most important, both in work and life, and is equally important as assessing and understanding skills, interests, aptitudes, strengths, and personality type. Values assessment and clarity should be woven into the career exploration work career professionals do with every one of their clients, regardless of age or career level.

Burnout researcher Dr. Christina Maslach has consistently found that a key risk factor for burnout is when there is a mismatch between employee and employer expectations and values (American Psychological Association, 2021). More specifically, burnout is correlated with a mismatch in:

  • workload
  • control over work
  • reward and recognition
  • work community and culture
  • fairness and equity at work
  • values.

When these elements are not aligned, clients are more likely to feel disengaged and disconnected from work, emotionally exhausted, and ineffective at work – the three telltale characteristics of burnout (Leiter & Maslach, 1999).

Recently, the burnout epidemic led the U.S. Surgeon General to develop a public health framework titled the “Five Essentials for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being” (Murthy, 2022). The framework (see Figure 1) highlights the need for employees to have

  1. Protection from Harm
  2. Connection and Community
  3. Work-Life Harmony
  4. Mattering at Work
  5. Opportunity for Growth.

Each element is rooted in Worker Voice and Equity. The five essentials are either basic human needs (e.g. safety) or values (e.g. flexibility/autonomy; Murthy, 2022).

Figure 1

Five Essentials for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being

Hansen Figure 1 Five Essential

 

As we move toward a more holistic approach in career development, another useful framework for career practitioners to understand is the Eight Dimensions of Wellness (see Figure 2). This model includes eight dimensions of wellness and health, all of which are mutually interdependent. The eight dimensions are: emotional, physical, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, financial, environmental and social wellness (Stoewen, 2017). Encouraging clients to clarify which dimensions they are thriving and which need more attention can help them understand their values better, especially those related to balancing their career with personal health and well-being. Once clients have clarity about their values, they can take informed and meaningful action toward a more balanced and sustainable career and life.

Figure 2

Eight Dimensions of Wellness

Hansen Figure 2 Eight Dimensions Of Wellness

 

 

Tools that Help Clients Clarify Their Values

Card sort assessments and career games are an effective way for career practitioners to aid clients in value identification.  These tools provide an engaging and powerful approach for helping clients understand their values in a way that will support career fulfillment, growth and whole-person well-being. These tools encourage clients, in an interactive and non-threatening way, to understand, make meaning of, and shape their career narrative as it relates to their values.

Below are examples of tools (each available digitally and in hard-copy) that can be used to help clients and students clarify, vocalize, and make career decisions based on their values and what is most important to them in work and life:

Following Up with Andrew

After completing and processing through the Work-Life Balance Assessment card sort, Andrew determined that the money and prestige that came with his role were not priorities he valued, and were no longer worth sacrificing his health, time for his hobbies, and relationship with his fiancé. He spoke to his manager about reducing his hours and workload but was told it was not possible. He eventually left his consulting position, pivoting to a new job working for a large utility company, which offered him less money, but a different pace and very clear boundaries between work and his personal life. This change gave Andrew time to take care of himself and spend time doing the other things in life that matter most to him. Andrew now feels he is living a life that is more authentic, sharing that his health and overall well-being have improved since he gained clarity around his values and priorities. This is what “success” truly means to him.

 

 

References

American Psychological Association. (2021). Why we’re burned out and what to do about it, with Christina Maslach, PhD. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQy1Zc37Bd0

Brooks, A. C. (2021, September 2). The secret to happiness at work. The Atlantic. www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/09/dream-job-values-happiness/619951/

‌Leiter, M., & Maslach, C. (1999). Six areas of worklife: A model of the organizational context of burnout. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 21. 472-489.

Murthy, V. (2022). The U.S. surgeon general’s framework for workplace mental health & well-being. Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/priorities/workplace-well-being/index.html

Stoewen, D. L. (2017). Dimensions of wellness: Change your habits, change your life. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508938/

 


Anush HansenAnush Hansen is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Career Counselor, and owner of Kennebunk Career & Wellness Counseling. She is also the founder of Balanced Card Sorts. Anush holds a master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a master’s in Public Health. Prior to her work as a counselor, she worked for 17 years as a public health researcher and program evaluator. It is Anush’s background in health promotion research, mental health, and public health that fuels her commitment to using a holistic, wellness-centered approach when working with clients, and that helped to shape the Balanced Card Sorts tools. She can be reached at anush@kennebunkcounseling.com

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18 Comments

Lisa Cardello    on Tuesday 08/01/2023 at 05:47 PM

What a great article, Anush! We often talk about the importance of values in career- your article provides nice suggestions on how to go about doing this. Will be incorporating this article into my graduate career counseling course in the fall!

Lynn Berger   on Tuesday 08/01/2023 at 06:38 PM

Anush, this was an excellent article with valuable information. I enjoyed reading it.

Jolly Tan   on Tuesday 08/01/2023 at 08:32 PM

What an amazing and insightful article. What you shared helps affirm what I will always do first with my clients. Check their career values.

JP Michel   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 09:11 AM

Thank you Anush for helping the world define success for themselves!

Rich Feller   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 09:24 AM

Well done Anush...great to see such a comprehensive article for practitioners...love your cards

Bernadette Farrar   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 11:16 AM

Thank you for the great article, Anush. Very well done with practical applications that can be immediately used.

Mark Isham   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 11:50 AM

Wonderful article, and I couldn't agree more that values should be the primary factor in career choice. For those who, like me, work for a public institution with primarily low-income students, consider this free online values matcher at CareerOneStop: https://www.careeronestop.org/Toolkit/Careers/work-values-matcher.aspx

Marcela Mesa   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 12:41 PM

Congratulations Anush, for your great article, up to the point and very precise to address this important issue about burnout and confusion or collision between personal and organizational values. I constantly keep an eye on Gallup's Engagement report (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/506798/globally-employees-engaged-stressed.aspx), that states that 23% of adults are engaged in their work, the other remaining 67% are further "Andrews"... everywhere. A lot to be done for us counselors!

Alyssa DiPadova   on Wednesday 08/02/2023 at 03:43 PM

Fantastic article! I administer Donald Super's Work Values Inventory as part of my career counseling program. It helps clarify beneficial in clarifying the "why" behind job dissatisfaction and helps drive informed and confident career decisions. I like the idea of a card sort exercise - it could be more engaging for clients.

Jim Peacock   on Thursday 08/03/2023 at 07:41 AM

So many people think they just need to find work they are skilled in. But values is another key element of satisfaction in our work. Helping clients/students discover this is so important. Great job at helping us understand the different dimensions of wellness.

China Yang   on Thursday 05/30/2024 at 11:01 AM

This was a great article! This article reminds folks how important it is to take care of yourself first to be the best version of yourself for others. We spend most of our time at work! If we're unhappy and burnt out at work then that affects almost every other aspect of our daily lives. Thank you for spreading awareness!

Grace Cormier   on Saturday 06/01/2024 at 01:15 PM

I love how this article takes on an honest approach to holistic career developmental. Often times, work-life balance is seen as an unobtainable aspect of one's professional career. The pressures of society and current employment status calls for more time spent at work versus living one's life. The need for an understanding of clear boundaries between work and life is necessary for the growth and development of this country!

Micol Striuli   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 11:41 AM

I like the pragmatic and empathetic approach that the author takes to address employee burnout. It should be every employer's responsibility to guarantee a healthy workplace, but unfortunately this isn't usually the reality.

Korrie L.   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 07:23 PM

This is a very important topic, especially in this day and age where working ourselves to almost nothing is the social norm. Many people find it hard to balance work, home, and social lives, and you've provided a systematic and visual approach to obtaining that balance. i hope that more people can use this and find that balance and create more peace in their lives

Justine C.    on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 08:39 PM

Making strides in my education to earn my masters in school counseling you have given me food-for-thought in the framework of wellness and personal values in my career choice. Upon graduation when searching for the right environment for myself I will keep this framework in mind. Amy Cuddy is a phenomenal social psychologist who is using this model as well as she is bringing to light workplace anti-bully tactics. It gives me such hope to know that there are case studies and a science behind career choice and tools for individuals to use when making the all-important decision on what organization to devote their valuable time and energy to. As a mother of a teen who is currently looking at colleges, I feel that using these 8 dimensions of wellness and health will be helpful for him when he is making his decision.

Marcela Garces   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 11:58 AM

I am so happy to read this article. I have said this for years, and seeing you write about it here is super exciting. Misalignment of values is so important in the career and educational domains. I will make sure to share this with my students. As noted in your article, mental health wellness and misalignment with employers can lead to burnout. I want students to know how to identify the signs so they can address them. Thank you!

Leah Abbate   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 02:01 PM

This article does a great job shedding light on the importance of value clarity and alignment. I cannot remember a time in high school or college when I was ever asked to consider what my values are in terms of the workplace. However, it makes so much sense to identify and clarify what our values are just as we do with our skills, interests, and abilities. Having conversations and asking students to reflect on their values at an early age and discuss with them the importance of aligning their vales to those of potential employers could have a profound impact on their career choice and their well-being in the future.

Tim Seavey   about 14 hours ago

This is such a helpful article Anush. Your comment "values assessment and clarity should be woven into career exploration work...regardless of age or career level" is spot on. For many people, clarity around career (or work-life) values isn't even considered until very late in their careers, if at all. Starting a deliberate discovery process at a young age (college, high school, or even earlier) is probably the best option, but it's never too late to define (or redefine) your "values" since they can change considerably as you move through life!

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