What are work values and why do they matter for career planning?

You be you

If you’re drifting from one job to another, but never quite syncing up your work values, you’re not alone. In fact, more than half of U.S. adults say they feel no real connection to the work they do, leading to lost productivity and general unhappiness.

Whether you’re just kicking off a career, or you’re already occupying a desk each day, it’s never too late to plan for a more fulfilling future.

Before you can map out a plan, though, you need to first define your work values. Think of this as similar to the mission statement that startups use before they craft a business plan. You’ll find that you have much more success once you’ve put a career plan in place, backed by the values you find most important.

Work values defined

If you ask the average person why they work, you’ll likely get an explanation that heavily involves the money that goes into their bank account at least once a month. But while compensation is an important motivating factor, it falls under the category of extrinsic values.

Increasing your salary and earning kudos from your boss are also extrinsic. While these work values are important, they might not give you the long-term career satisfaction you’re seeking.

For that, it’s important to look to intrinsic values — which include making a difference in lives, feeling a sense of achievement each day, experiencing adventure, and being seen as an expert in your field.

You might find that the work you’re currently doing doesn’t fulfill any of those values, which means that by outlining what does matter to you, you can make better job choices.

Work Values Team

This checklist can help you identify what values are most important to you — whether they’re related to the money you earn, the recognition you receive, or the satisfaction you feel from a job well done. This list isn’t an all-inclusive, so it’s important to dig deep into your own core values to find a list specific to your own personality.

Why work values matter

From an employer’s perspective, a reliable, professional employee can mean the difference between success and failure. This is especially true with an entire team. A worker who has strong values will be self-motivating, possibly even inspiring the rest of the team.

Someone who places a high priority on making a difference in the community will show up for work each day, excited to get things done. When compared to someone who only comes to work for the paycheck, this person is much more likely to be a top team member.

But your employer isn’t the only one who benefits when you pursue a professional path that aligns with solid work values.

One way it helps you is through your own career success. Employers will eye self-starters for promotions and raises, which will help you honor your extrinsic values while fulfilling those that are intrinsic. If you choose to pursue another job, your employer will also be much more likely to recommend you if you’re a highly motivated, reliable worker.

The biggest benefit of choosing a career that aligns with your work values is personal, though.

When you wake up each day excited about the work you’re doing, you’ll live a happier, more fulfilled life.


You’ll be more motivated to grow and learn, helping you advance both professionally and personally. This might mean occasionally taking risks like pursuing a new work opportunity or tackling a new challenge. As long as you have cemented your personal work values, you’ll be working toward something.

Let’s get started

Work Values List

Nobody knows you as well as you know yourself. That means only you can outline your personal work values. As you’re deciding what matters most to you, set aside any concerns about what others might think and be totally honest with yourself.

If achieving great wealth matters more than making a difference in the world, for example, you can acknowledge that from the start and craft a career plan that helps you achieve your dreams. If, on the other hand, you get a great sense of personal satisfaction from knowing the work you’re doing makes a difference in the world, you can make decisions that put you in that type of career.

Review the below list and extract the work values that matter most to you. Choosing one over another doesn’t mean you have to give up any hope of ever achieving that goal. The work values you identify are simply used to help give your career focus.

  • Work-life balance — How important is it to be able to take time off when you need it?
  • Contribution to community — Some positions allow you to make a positive difference in a small geographic area.
  • Contribution globally — This type of work makes a difference to a population beyond your local community.
  • Autonomy — Some place a high priority on being able to work with minimal supervision.
  • Recognition from others — Is it necessary that your boss and coworkers recognize the hard work you do?
  • Variety — Some jobs allow workers to tackle a variety of project types each day.
  • Adventure — If adventure is important to you, you might seek a position that involves heavy travel.
  • Job security — Would you sacrifice regular pay raises and promotions in exchange for job security?
  • Relationships — Is building relationships with coworkers and clients important?
  • Salary advancement — If income is your goal, it might mean multiple employer shifts over the years.

Although this list isn’t all-inclusive, it can give you a great head start in identifying your own work values. Make a list, ranking your values in order of importance, and use the information to develop a career plan that you can re-evaluate each year as you grow and learn.

Image by: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash