New research ‘questions the credibility’ of organisational values

Poll finds most employees’ principles are not shared by their employers, as experts warn of workers’ increasing willingness to ‘stand up for what they believe in’ 

A survey comparing workers’ personal values and those championed by their employers has shown a “gulf” between the two.

The poll of 1,178 UK workers, conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management, showed that of the top 10 values held by employees, just three were also shared by their employers. 

Respondents, who were asked about their employers’ top values, reported qualities including collaboration, diversity and accountability – which the institute described as “functional and outcome-driven measures”. In contrast, workers’ personal values centred around the human aspects of work, and included honesty, making a difference and doing the right thing. 

Overall, the only top values workers felt they shared with their employers were integrity, respect and trust. 

Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management, said the research shone a light on “how disconnected some organisations are from their employees”, and raised questions about the credibility of the values many organisations publicly hold. She added that it was increasingly important to workers for their employers’ values to align with their own.

“Previous generations were encouraged to make their personal values a private matter, but we’re now seeing a blurring between these two domains and an increasing willingness for people to stand up for – and sometimes take direct action to secure – what they believe in. This includes seeking employers whose values we share,” Cooper said. 

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Cooper also suggested that the research could point to a source of gender inequality in the workplace, as male respondents’ personal values were more closely aligned with the organisational values than those of female respondents.

“With a preference towards male values in organisations reflected in recruitment advertising, it’s not surprising that some women may feel a disconnect between their values and those of their employer,” she said. 

Half of the top values of male respondents (50 per cent) matched those championed by employers, while female respondents only shared 30 per cent of values with employers. 

Staff in the education sector reported the greatest misalignment between individual workers’ values compared with their employers, with eight out of 10 of their top values not being shared by employers in the sector. 

Jo Cresswell, community expert at recruiter Glassdoor, said the gap between organisational values and those of their staff could present a problem for employers, as jobseekers are “increasingly looking for a more meaningful workplace experience”.

She said “employers that don’t recognise the importance of their corporate values are missing out on – or losing – talented staff”.

However, Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the CIPD, highlighted that a business’s corporate values are not necessarily the same as those promoted within a workplace culture.

“Aspirational corporate ‘values’ can be hugely different from the day-to-day values of the organisation that shape behavioural norms and organisation culture,” he said. 

Gifford also noted that as employees were asked to report on their employer’s values – as opposed to asking organisations directly – the survey’s findings could reflect what workers understand their employers’ corporate values to be, rather than the actual values championed by businesses. 

The report also polled workers on their involvement in deciding on company values. A little over a third (35 per cent) of respondents reported being involved in the process, but there were big differences between age groups. A majority (57 per cent) of employees over 61 said they had been involved, but this dropped to just a fifth (21 per cent) of 18 to 30-year-old workers.