Why Good Company Values Make Happy Employees

By Robert Half on July 8, 2015 at 2:02pm

How would your employees rate their level of job satisfaction? Learn how your company values can make all the difference in keeping your workforce motivated and successful.

We often think of organizational values as lofty concepts that apply to the company at a high level, acting as a moral compass and guiding your business strategy. And while that’s true, they also play another equally important role: boosting the happiness of your individual employees.

Every member of your team, from top to bottom, should be on board with your values. Here’s why.

It’s All in the Science

First, let’s take a look at the reward system in the brain. According to research by Stanford neuroscientist Jamil Zaki, we respond positively when we share values with the rest of our social group. In one experiment, people who were told that their opinions were the same as the rest of their assigned group experienced a reward response in their brains.

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

It doesn’t matter what the opinion is; what matters is knowing that yours agrees with the one held by the rest of your group. For example, we usually consider money a reward, right? But in one experiment, people were put in a situation where getting money would hurt their social connections. What happened? Their brains' reward response to money went down.

When we start thinking about the workforce, the connection is clear. Employees can spend more than half of their waking hours at work, so their colleagues make up an important social group — maybe the most important one outside of family. Being in agreement with that group feeds the brain’s reward response. And one of the most important ways they can agree is over workplace values.

When Values Are in Harmony

Let’s take a look at real-life examples. In our Industry Ranking Report, we asked employees to rate their workplace happiness. The industry that averaged the highest happiness scores was Construction & Facilities Services, beating out industries like Technology & Software and Media & Entertainment.

Here’s what employees in the Construction & Facilities Services industry 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 makes it very easy to love working here.”

While many factors contribute to employee happiness, there’s a clear message in these responses: sharing individual and company values makes everything even better. It boosts workers’ satisfaction with both the company and their colleagues.

Out of Tune With the Company

In contrast, if an employee is already feeling dissatisfied at work, a clash of values can make things worse. Let’s take a look at 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 and professionalism, but this is not always visible in day-to-day working practice.”

These employees clearly wish their companies’ values matched their own (or at least didn’t 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 workplace happiness. A business move 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.

If you want a happy workforce, then make the company values part of the equation. Recruit and hire employees who embody the same values in their work. This is just as vital as making sure a candidate has the right skills listed on their resume. Being aligned with the company’s higher goals will mean that 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.

What role do workplace values play in motivating your team?

Dora Wang is a content marketing specialist at TINYpulse who writes and researches about ways to make employees happier. 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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