Agreement between your personal values and the values of the organization you work for may create the foundation for your ethical well- being at work. Why? In my recently published article entitled, “A Pedagogy for Integrating a Value Congruence and Ethics Connection into Course Work: The Nine Dots Exercise” (Weinstein, 2017), I identify several studies that suggest a relationship between personal values, organizational values, and work ethics. Below is a brief overview of key points from this article to help you get started. In addition, I also provide an approach to explore the potential relationship between your personal values, your organization’s values, and ethics on-the-job.
1. Values: There are many definitions of the term “values” including: (1) one’s convictions as to what is right or wrong (Robbins & Coulter, 2009), (2) what people would like to achieve in their lives, and (3) the means to achieve life goals (Rokeach, 1973). Additionally, various scholars relate that “values” influence how a person behaves (Allport, 1955; Fritzsche & Oz, 2007; Yukl, 2010). Examples of “values” include, but are not limited to: respect, friendship, wisdom, happiness, equality, security, wisdom, harmony, recognition, a sense of accomplishment, etc.
2. Ethics has been defined as “the decisions, choices, and actions (behaviors) we make that reflect and enact our values” (Ethics Resource Center, 2012). Trevino & Nelson (2007) also share that ethics at work is about one’s conduct.
3. Organizational Values: Organizational values convey the values that organizations and organizational members deem to be important (Hitt, 1988). These values reflect what the organization stands for and what it believes in, and they create an environment that influences employee behavior ethically or unethically (Robbins & Coulter, 2009).
4. Value Congruence refers to an agreement between individual and organizational values (Chatman, 1991). For example, if you personally believe in respecting the rights of others, and the organization you work for promotes the same concept, there is value congruence between your personal values and the values of your organization.
5. Value Incongruence is the term used when employee and organizational values are dissimilar (Chatman, 1991). Using the example above, value incongruence would occur if you believe in respecting the rights of others when your employer does not support the same view.
Tying Concepts Together
A significant body of literature highlights a relationship between value congruence, i.e., the alignment between personal and organizational values and ethics. For example, noted business scholar, John Schermerhorn, Jr. reports that,
“Most ethical problems in the workplace arise when people are asked to do, or find they are about to do something that violates their personal beliefs. For some, if the act is legal, they proceed with confidence. For others, the ethical test goes beyond the legality of the act alone. The ethical question extends to personal values — the underlying beliefs and attitudes that help determine individual values” (2010, p. 91).
Equally important is Trevino & Nelson’s research (2007) which purports that the misalignment of personal and organizational values can create ethical dilemmas.
Interestingly, Liedtka’s findings (1988) indicate that managers with more consistent sets of values (i.e., greater agreement between individual and organizational values) address ethical conflicts at a higher level than managers with lower value congruence (i.e., less agreement between individual and organizational values). In addition, the higher the consistency of one’s individual values, the greater impact these personal values have in affecting people’s responses to ethical dilemmas.
In another topical review, Posner and Schmidt (1993) demonstrate that managers convey more favorable work attitudes and ethical practices of co-workers and their organizations when they better understood their organizational and personal values. In contrast, managers with greater ambiguity about organizational and personal values relate less favorable attitudes about their work, co-workers, and organizations. And a follow-on Posner study (2010) further confirms the relationship of personal values, organizational values and ethics, as well.
There is continuing research demonstrating a personal/organizational values ethics connection, including within academia. Articles by educational scholars Stewart and Freeman (2011) and Falkenberg and Woiceshyn (2008) encourage students to better understand their personal values in order to enhance awareness of potential ethical issues. What’s more, there is also a trend for organizations to display greater interest in personal values of individuals at work (Beltramini, Peterson, & Kozmetsky, 1984). In particular, there is heightened interest in exploring personal values relative to individual job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational loyalty. Let’s face it — it makes sense that job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and loyalty can be enhanced when employees feel a personal connection to their jobs and employers relative to personal interests, needs, and values. Therefore, students and employees should consider how their personal values align with organizations they work for now or in the future.
How to Explore Links Between Personal Values, Organizational Values, and Ethics
Follow these basic steps to investigate the relationship between your personal values and the values of an employer, and ethics.
1. Identify Personal Values: First, identify your top personal values [5-10 values] and why these values are important to you. [Food for thought: If you need help considering personal values for your top ten list, post “personal values” into your computer browser and you will likely see various articles and/or lists discussing this topic. Use this material as resources to help you pinpoint your own personal Keep in mind that everyone will not have the same personal values.]
2. Explore Organizational Values: Next, identify the values of the organization you work for or organizations that you are considering for future employment. Helpful ideas to identify organizational values:
1. Review the organization’s website to identify the organization’s mission, values, and goals, if available [many organizations post this information on their websites today].
2. Consider what internal organizational information [via the Internet, promotional literature, recruitment literature, advertisements, policies, procedures, practices, etc.] suggests about the organization, its industry, and organizational values.
3. Reflect on the external information about the organization, its industry, and values [via blogs, articles, other media, trade associations, government agencies, etc.].
4. Interview current and former organizational employees relative to the topic of values.
5. Consider important decisions that the organization has implemented over the last few years and how these decisions demonstrate organizational values.
6. Think about the management style of organizational leadership and how the management style supports organizational values.
3. Compare and Contrast: Create a chart that lists your identified personal values and the organizational values side-by-side. Identify the extent to which personal values and the organizational values align or contrast, recognizing that the greater the difference between personal and organizational values, the greater the potential for ethical issues to occur. Consider how an alignment or gap between personal and organizational values can positively or negatively impact your work and create ethical dilemmas.
As you work through this process, keep in mind that there isn’t a cookie cutter answer regarding the “right” level of personal and organizational values alignment needed to minimize ethical issues on-the-job. However, taking the time to gather and review this information should help you focus on your own personal values and acknowledge important personal/organizational values ethics connections for greater on-the-job success.
Written by Dianne Weinstein, Ph.D., Lead Faculty
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Chatman, J. (1991). Matching People and Organizations: Selection and Socialization in Public Accounting Firms. Administrative Science Quarterly, 36, 459-484. https://doi.org/10.2307/2393204
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Posner, B .Z. and Schmidt, W. H. (1993). Values Congruence and Differences Between the Interplay of Personal and Organizational Values Systems. Journal of Business Ethics, 12, 341-347. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00882023
Robbins, S. P. and Coulter, M. (2009). Management, (10th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tourman.2008.11.001 Schermerhorn, J. R., Jr., Hunt, J. G., Osborn, R.N. and Uhl-Bien, M. (2010). Organizational Behavior, (11th ed.), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Stewart, L. A and Freeman, R. E. (2011). Assessing Business Ethics Education: Assessment From Where and For What? In R. A. Giacalone and C.L. Jurkiewicz (Eds.). Toward Assessing Business Ethics Education, (pp. 49-56), Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Trevino, L.K. and Nelson, K.A. (2007). Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How To Do It Right, (4th ed) Hoboken: N J. https://doi.org/10.3794/ijme.92.res Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in Organizations, (7th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. https://doi.org/10.2307/257314