Values at Work

Values play a central role in how we construct and live our lives, including decisions relating to work and careers. Understanding what values are, and identifying those which are most important for you, can help you achieve a satisfying work-life balance.

What are values?

Your values are those elements of your life which you find personally important. They are core beliefs which guide you on how to conduct your life in a way that is meaningful and satisfying for you.

Values are the things against which you measure your choices, whether consciously or not. You use them to rationalise your behaviour to yourself and others. And they determine your level of satisfaction with your choices, even if decisions are not freely made but constrained by other factors.

Your values can help you to understand where you might find a role in society, and they are often a strong motivator for work.

Where do values come from?

You may share some of the values of the people around you (your friends or family, or your social, ethnic or national group, for example) and you may have other values which are particular to you. Values can be related to your personality (e.g. a desire to work with or manage others), to your needs (e.g. hunger, shelter, security) and to your own understanding of your social context (e.g. environmentalism or political values).

Your own values will emerge from a combination of your background, your experiences, and your evolving sense of self. While some of these values may stay constant throughout your life, others will develop and change as you do.

Navigating life involves compromise and contingency and we regularly prioritise our values accordingly. We may change them through reflection, experience, or pressure to align ourselves with dominant values in our social context or the workplace, for example.

Values at work

Your work related values concern how you would like to see some of your values expressed in your career. Ideally your values will be in line with each other and with the values of the organisation you work for. In practice, however, you are likely to make compromises.

In relation to careers and the workplace, your values may include things which make you feel good (or bad) about your work, and things that encourage you to stay in a job (or leave). For example:

Work conditions:

  • Working in a team / working alone
  • Having your own office / sharing an office
  • Autonomy / supervision and direction
  • Being an expert / generalist
  • Office based / outdoor work
  • Goals and bonuses / deadlines and challenges
  • Competition / collaboration
  • Variety / routine
  • Risk / stability
  • Helping people / making a profit
  • Working for a large, well known organisation / small, upcoming company


  • Salary and related benefits
  • Bonuses
  • Pensions
  • Social status
  • Professional status
  • Power and influence
  • Sense of achievement
  • Personal challenge
  • Opportunity to travel


  • Working from home all or part of the time
  • Working part time or making time for other responsibilities
  • Working locally / commuting
  • Regular / flexible / long working hours
  • Saving / spending money
  • Living simply / luxuriously
  • Time with family and friends
  • Time to pursue other interests
  • Living in the city / country
  • Moving around
  • Owning your own home
Suggested activity

To get an idea of what matters most to you, you are welcome to complete the exercise “What do you want from your life?”.