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What values guide your career?

career research blog

The latest career research insights to grow your career

What values guide your career?

Francisco Wilhelm

What motivates us to work and what we value in our work are tricky problems. Back in the old days, you would simply do what your father (and it was mostly men who entered occupations) did. Why you work wasn’t even a serious question. Born a peasant, you simply had no choice; for nobles, it was only starting in the 19th century that following a ‘regular’ occupation was a valid pursuit and not something reserved for lower classes. The question was only a concern to the middle classes, and their choices were limited by rather rigid systems of guilds and societies evolving at a slow pace.

But that is no longer our world: Both the what and why of working get more complicated everyday. The range of occupations to choose from is exploding; even more so, to stay valuable on the labor market you now have to craft a niche for yourself and proactively manage your own career. Thus, to navigate our complex world, questions about what and why you work are also becoming more important everyday.

Researchers have identified that career identity, or “being clear on one’s needs, motivation, abilities, values and interests” (Hall 2002; Gubler, Arnold & Coombs, 2014) is a key ingredient for successful careers in the 21st century. But finding out what your needs, motivations, abilities, values and interests are is a daunting task, even for highly self-reflexive persons. Fortunately, we at CRESOGO are here to help you. In today’s post we are going to explore the values aspect of work identities.

What are work values? Simply put, they “answer the question of what is important to individuals in their working lives” (Lyons, Higgins & Duxbury, 2010). Researchers have been looking for underlying criteria that people use, implicitly or explicitly, when choosing or evaluating jobs. For example, when a person prefers a job that is secure, provides a good life-work-balance and offers benefits such as health insurance, that person values instrumental aspects in her/his work.  There has been an ongoing debate on just how many and which categories are the best to classify people’s preferences. In a large-scale study with over 100.000 people, Lyons and colleagues have found that the best classification of work values consists of four types, which are: instrumental, cognitive, social/altruistic, prestige.

The Instrumental work value type emphasizes aspects of security and comfort and how one can gain things from work which can be used for other purposes, like salary and moderate hours of work. The cognitive work value type is about the aspects of work which are fulfilling in themselves, like variety and doing interesting and intellectually stimulation work that challenges your abilities and from which you can learn. The social work value type entails the relations we foster at work and the social interactions, as well as altruistic aspects like helping people and contributing to society through your work. The prestige work value type is about enhancing yourself through gaining authority, influence and status.

What work aspects are dear to you? What work values do you hold? We hope this article will help you to reflect on your values. Maybe it will even help you when your next career decision comes up.



Gubler, M., Arnold, J., & Coombs, C. (2014). Reassessing the protean career concept: Empirical findings, conceptual components, and measurement. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, 23–40. doi:10.1002/job.1908

Hall, D. T. (2002). Careers in and out of organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lyons, S. T., Higgins, C. A., & Duxbury, L. (2010). Work values: Development of a new three- dimensional structure based on confirmatory smallest space analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(7), 969–1002. doi:10.1002/job.658