Love What You Do: Core Values at Work


Doing what you love for a living may not always be possible, but everyone can love what you do for a living. 

In the workplace, it is commonly accepted that work is just work. It’s not about happiness or personal fulfillment.  This ends up leading to work that lacks the joy that would give it meaning.  Employees that buy into this fallacy are more likely to find themselves disengaged.

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

The problem of employee disengagement is both extensive and expensive:

  • Sixty-Seven Percent (67%) of Employees Are Either Not Engaged or Actively Disengaged  (Gallup)
  • Disengagement Costs Between $450 and $500 Billion Annually (Harvard Business Review)
  • Less than three out of ten employers have an engagement strategy in place (Society of HR Management)
A core values mismatch can lead to employee disengagement.

One of the main causes of low employee engagement is a values mismatch. This is known as value congruence which experts say represents the compatibility or similarity between individual values and organizational values.   

Sadly, few employees know their company’s core values let alone their own. 

Without an intentional focus on core values, employees can find themselves miserable at work.  This discontent increases stress levels which negatively impacts physical and mental health. 

It’s simply no longer enough for employees to do what they’re good at. This strengths-based approach merely takes into account what’s needed to fulfill the role. However, it neglects what’s needed to fulfill the person performing the role.

So as an employee, where would you even begin in improving your engagement?

Here are 5 tips for how to use core values to improve your employee engagement: 

[1] Determine your core values

Let’s go through a simple process for determining your core values

  1. Find a list: Google a list of 300-400 core values. Look for ones that are alphabetized and contain lots of nouns (avoid adjectives). 
  2. Review the list carefully: The nouns that represent the things you value the most will tend to jump out at you. Look for things that energize, excite you and that you cherish the most.
  3. Avoid Boilerplate: Stay clear of common values such as integrity, trust, happiness – who doesn’t value these? Look for things that distinguish you at a deeper level. 
  4. Consider pet peeves: Look for the common themes in the things that tick you off and get under your skin.  The opposite of these themes usually ties to a core value. Core values violations tend to be pet peeves.
  5. Choose 20 > 10 > 6 > 3: Select 20 values.  Review the 20 selected values you’ve selected and choose 10. Then review the 10 selected and choose 6. Then review the 6 selected and choose 3. For extra credit, narrow the list to your top 2.  

[2] Check for cultural alignment 

What if you and your company have grown apart?

Many companies are proactive in determining values alignment.  These companies offer employees periodic core values quizzes that help employees determine if the company’s values and their values are misaligned – suggesting a poor fit.  

While I applaud the effort, a company’s espoused values usually differ from those reflected in the culture you experience as an employee.  Culture is values in action. This is because while values are preached, it is behavior and norms that are actually what is practiced.  

Instead of comparing your core values to the company’s values, compare them against the values demonstrated by the culture.  Life is short. Far too short for working at a company where there’s a low cultural alignment.  

[3] Sprinkle in your core values

Imagine a world where people realized they didn’t have to choose between doing their job and be happy. 

Take Shannon Doah, a 29-year-old Project Manager in Spring, TX.  Like most, Shannon sees work as just work. By 4 pm she’s glancing at the clock, waiting for the chance to go home and do what she loves. After work, you’ll find Shannon in front of her 27″ iMac creating cartoons on Adobe Illustrator.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Shannon realized she could merge those two worlds together?  It could be as simple as illustrating clip art for a presentation.   Doing what you love for a living may not always be possible, but everyone can love what you do for a living. 

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a follow your passion plea.  It isn’t about replacing your work with only things you love and enjoy.  If you’re like most, work is not always a joy. However, applying core values to your job can be that spoonful of sugar to make the medicine of work go down easier.  

Core values can make the workday more fun and at the least more tolerable.

[4] Find a more aligned role

There are certain roles in your company where your core values come together.  For Shannon, this would be applying for a role in the Graphics Department.

Many looking to make such career transitions, soon find themselves facing the inevitable experience question.  This is why these transitions are best done inside your current company.  

Here are three strategies for overcoming lack of experience that Shannon should consider in getting that Graphic Designer position:

  • Focus on transferrable skills: Creativity, Attention to detail, Adobe Illustrator
  • Emphasize extra-curriculars: Published in the local paper, a Marketing campaign for non-profit, Web-site portfolio, Illustrated blog
  • Moonlight internally: Put in extra time and assist with a project or work a small project for the prospective new team

[5] Apply Job Crafting

Job Crafting helps employees clearly define how their values, strengths, and passions connect to what they do on a day-to-day basis making their job more engaging and fulfilling. 

The interactive tool allows you to view your job as a flexible set of building blocks. Using this unique perspective, you create a visual plan for redesigning your job to better suit your values, strengths, and passions. 

Job Crafting goes well beyond the common strengths-based methods used to help you develop in your career.  By connecting values and passions with strengths, you’re able to find what’s missing for many disengaged employees – meaning and purpose

My Core Values Testimony

In early 2018, I volunteered to lead my department’s newly formed weekly team meeting called Coffee & Collaboration.  In addition to developing my leadership and facilitation skills, this is meeting would soon serve as an awesome doggy park for my core values.  Like a doggy park, Coffee & Collab provided my creativity and connection a wonderful contained space to roam and play.  

Each week I come up with new and interesting ways to engage our medium-sized team in icebreakers aimed at fostering the vulnerability needed to build trust.  This trust enables our team to bring our best ideas forward, provide meaningful critiques, and forge connections that extend well beyond the meeting. 

Looking back at the things that I loved doing (photography, marketing, story-telling, innovation) they all had two things in common – creativity and connection. This is one way that I have found to sprinkle my values into my work.  It has given me a sense of meaning as I’m helping to contribute to team building, cohesion, and learning.  

This is what can be done when you understand and incorporate your core values. 

While everyone may not be able to do what they love for a living, everyone can love what they do.  Applying your core values is a key component in loving what you do. Whether it’s through cultural alignment, sprinkling core values on your job, a more aligned role or crafting your current role,  you too can love what you do. These steps can go a long way toward helping bring back what’s typically missing in your job – fun.