How Organizational Values Create an Engaged Workforce

by Dora Wang on Mar 31, 2016 8:00:00 AM

How Organizational Values Create an Engaged Workforce by TINYpulseThink organizational values are just pretty ideas you share on your business’s website or a poster on your office wall? Think again.

Your company values help you define who you are as an organization — to your staff, to the people investing in your business, and even to yourself. They shape your culture and act as a North Star to guide your company decisions.

What’s more, they’re also vital to workplace happiness.


A Boost to the Best Industry

Our 2015 Industry Ranking Report found that workers in Construction & Facilities Services averaged the highest happiness scores out of all the industries using TINYpulse. They ranked higher than industries varying from Technology & Software to Media & Entertainment.

Employees in Construction & Facilities Services gave high responses in a number of areas, but let’s take a look at what they said about their company’s values:

“One of the most satisfying things about working here is the close alignment of the company values to my own. That my peers overwhelmingly share the same values is icing on the cake.”

“I share the values of the company in my personal life. That is one of the things that make it very easy to love working here.”

The message is clear: while lots of factors make employees happy, sharing individual and company values makes everything even better. It boosts their satisfaction with both the company and their coworkers.


Compounding Unhappiness

On the other hand, if an employee is already feeling dissatisfaction at work, a clash of values can make things worse. Here are some responses from employees in the industries that averaged the lowest happiness scores:

“I value quality and work ethic where it seems all that matters here is the hours.”

“The values of the organization are aligned with complacency. I'd like this place to stand for something more than average day to day busy work.”

“I think that the company's values are, at times, confused. The practice doesn't always match what is preached. A lot is said about integrity, decency, professionalism but this is not always visible in day to day working practice.”

These employees have their personal values, but they want their companies to match them (or at least not contradict them). For example, in the first quote, the problem isn’t just the fact that the company demands a lot of hours; it’s how this undermines the employee’s values.

Companies can’t ignore the impact that values have on the workplace experience. A business practice that is a small problem for an employee can get much bigger if the employee and company fundamentally disagree on what their guiding motivations should be.


What Organizational Values Do to Your Brain

One of the reasons that it’s so important for your employees to align with your company has to do with brain chemistry.

According to research by Stanford neuroscientist Jamil Zaki, it’s important for people to share values with the rest of their social group. In his research, people who were told that their opinions were the same as the rest of the group experienced a reward response in their brains.

On the other hand, those who disagreed with the group showed negative activity in the brain region for reward — and later, they made an effort to be more like group and to establish a social connection.

What the opinion is doesn’t matter — it’s knowing that yours agrees with others’. For example, we generally think of money as a reward. But in one experiment, people were put in a situation where getting money would hurt their social connections, and the brain’s reward response to money went down.

Since employees spend half (or more) of their waking hours at work, the workforce is one of the most important social groups a person has. Knowing that they are in harmony with their team feeds the reward response in their brain. It’s no wonder that employees are happy when their individual values are aligned with the company’s.


The Company’s Role

So what does this mean for leaders? Is it the employee’s responsibility to find a company they’re compatible with, or should the company take an active role?

It’s in your best interest to build a team whose values match your organization’s. Here’s one reason why:

“The company values being aligned with mine made it an easy transition from my previous employer to here. No worry to fit in, or learn how to think, just learn my job responsibilities.”

This respondent lays out the benefits they (and their company) gained by having shared values:

  • A shorter onboarding process
  • Compatibility with coworkers
  • No distractions from the employee getting their job done

These effects go beyond an individual worker — they affect team productivity. They could mean the difference between a new hire getting up to full speed in one month instead of two. Could they even prevent you from losing talent? This response from an employee makes us think the answer is yes:

“I share the values of the company in my personal life. That is one of the things that make it very easy to love working here.”

Unfortunately, TINYpulse’s 2013 Employee Engagement Survey shows that less than half of employees actually know their company’s values. So company leaders have their work cut out for them. Not only do you need to make your organizational values clear to your workforce — you also have to build a workforce that fits with those values.

Determine the guiding principles for your company — whether it’s top-notch customer service, relentless innovation, or something else — and hire a team who will enact them. This is just as vital as making sure a candidate has the right skills listed on their resume.

Company values are no empty gesture. Aligning your employees’ priorities with those of the organization as a whole results in rewards for both you and your workforce. Having a higher goal in mind means they’re more than a cog in the machine, and it’s that kind of investment that will get them engaged and ready to go the extra mile at work.


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.



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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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