Addressing the Conflict between Personal and Organisational Values
Mental health conditions have a significant financial impact on Australian organisations. So significant in fact, that it is costing organisations approximately $11 billion per year in absenteeism, presenteeism, and compensation claim expenses (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2014). Given these costs, it is clear that organisations should be working hard to address the causes of these negative behavioural outcomes that are within their control. One such cause that can be addressed is the extent to which an individual’s values differ from that of the organisation they are working for, and how this impacts on organisational behaviour.
I have personally experienced this conflict between my own values and that of my former workplace. From my perspective, it can be described as feeling torn between my own value of integrity, versus my company’s strong value of revenue generation ‘at all costs’. As an Account Manager at a fast-paced technology company, I felt this conflict most strongly during contract negotiations with clients, in which I was encouraged to omit information that would likely result in the client choosing an alternative supplier. These types of interactions left me feeling anxious, and I needed to take days off in order to escape the mental strain. This negative experience is not uncommon when such a scenario occurs, and in fact the research on values conflict in the workplace is strongly correlated with negative behavioural and attitudinal outcomes (F. Naus, A. Van Iterson & R.A. Roe 2007; Siegall & McDonald 2004).
The concept of values allows for an appreciation of the challenge involved in aligning individual and organisation values. A leading early researcher in this field, Milton Rokeach, defined values as “a desirable end state of existence, or a desirable mode of behaviour” (Rokeach 1971, p. 453). Rokeach further proposed that values are enduring, and are a driver of personal attitudes and behaviours (Gouldner & Rokeach 1975). Further research has since been conducted on the effects of individual values in the workplace. Amy Kristof-Brown was arguably one of the first researchers in this field to coin the term ‘values incongruence’, and in its simplest form can be described as the difference between individual and organisational values (Kristof 1996). Values incongruence is unique in that it juxtaposes the enduring and fundamental nature of personal values (Kristof 1996; Rokeach 1971) against the strong organisational setting that will likely force compliance of organisational values, norms, and standards (Deng et al. 2016; F. Naus, A. Van Iterson & R.A. Roe 2007). Therein lies the complexity when two relatively stable value sets meet each other.
Values incongruence indeed does matter – it has been linked to several negative outcomes for the individual including lack of positive self-image, feelings of guilt and shame, stress, and burnout (Bao et al. 2013; Deng et al. 2016; F. Naus, A. Van Iterson & R.A. Roe 2007; Siegall & McDonald 2004; Dbaibo, Harb & Van Meurs 2010). A low values congruence can also affect the organisation in the form of organisational cynicism, absenteeism, low organisational commitment, and intention to quit (Bao et al. 2013; F. Naus, A. Van Iterson & R.A. Roe 2007; F. Naus, A. van Iterson & R. Roe 2007). Some research, however, has found a level of values incongruence can foster workplace diversity (Vogel, Rodell & Lynch 2016). Despite this, it can be seen that values incongruence is a significant cause of negative attitudinal and behavioural outcomes for both the individual and the organisation.
From my personal experience and research, it is clear that there are negative behavioural outcomes elicited from values incongruence. Combined with the costs, as reported by PricewaterhouseCoopers, associated to these behaviours it would make sense for the individual and the organisation to prioritise convergence of values. Organisational behaviour research has demonstrated positive outcomes for both the employee and the organisation when values congruence is high (Tomlinson, Lewicki & Ash 2014; Edwards & Cable 2009). I believe I would have been able to thrive and develop my career further within my former company if my personal value of being transparent with clients was also shared by senior management.
In order to understand the dynamic between organisational and personal values, let us firstly look at organisational values. Organisational values tend to be in the form of rules, policies, and practices that specify the desired employee behaviours (Suar & Khuntia 2010; Edwards & Cable 2009). Some researchers further contend that senior managers hold, practice, and promote organisational values to employees (Suar & Khuntia 2010). The Competing Values Framework helps to explain the makeup of these organisation values, and why these entities may struggle to embrace individual values. It is proposed that organisations generally operate under one of four distinct business models and these models have mutually exclusive and competing values associated to them (Quinn & Rohbaugh 1983; Hartnell, Ou & Kinicki 2011). These organisation models range on a structural spectrum from flexible to controlled, and a focus spectrum from internal to external (Quinn & Rohbaugh 1983). The four business models associated to this framework are the human relations model, open system model, rational goal model, and internal process model (Quinn & Rohbaugh 1983). Each model has distinct values in order to maintain the system. If I was to apply the Competing Values Framework to my own experience, I would place my former company in the ‘rational goal model’ quadrant – which valued productivity and efficiency at the expense of human resource value and development (Quinn & Rohbaugh 1983). It can be seen that operating under a particular business model with an inherent set of values requires a trade off with opposing values. Thus, organisations may not, or cannot, embrace the individual values of their employees if they wish to succeed in achieving overall business goals. It must be acknowledged, however, that recent research contends these four domains are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and they can overlap to form an interrelated organisation model (Hartnell, Ou & Kinicki 2011). Despite this, the Competing Values Framework provides a useful foundation for understanding the organisation values that drive organisationally desired goals and behaviours.
Recognising that the Competing Values Framework provides insights on the link between organisational values and organisational goals, self-concordance theory is a useful addition as it explains this link from the individual perspective. Self-concordance, by definition, is the extent to which goals are an expression of one’s interests and values (Sheldon & Elliot 1999). Taken from a different perspective, personal interests and values drive the types of goals an individual will set. Sheldon and Elliot (1999) argue that attempts to attain a goal that is not concordant with self will result in increased susceptibility to failure. This theory can be applied to the workplace, in which individuals are required to complete tasks and attain external goals which align to the organisation’s values. These goals may not necessarily align to the individual’s own values. In my personal experience, the company goal of achieving increased revenue generation was not concordant with my value of treating others ‘how I would like to be treated’, which in this case was having all relevant information available before signing a large financial contract. This left me feeling depleted when I was constantly striving for the client to sign a contract which I felt was not morally correct. The Competing Values Framework sheds light on the potential trade-offs associated to particular organisational values, and self-concordance theory explains why one may not be driven to achieve such organisational goals.
Collectively, the relationship between organisational values and personal values can be explained using the concept of ‘person-organisation’ (PO) fit. The term ‘PO fit’ describes the extent to which an individual and their organisation are compatible in terms of characteristics (Kristof‐Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson 2005; Kristof 1996). The research generally accepts that value congruence is one of the key practical definitions of PO fit (Kristof‐Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson 2005). In a meta-analysis study, it was shown that PO fit had strong correlations with job satisfaction and organisational commitment, and a moderate negative relationship with intent to quit (Kristof‐Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson 2005). Furthermore, PO fit has been shown to be related to positive work attitudes (Posner 1992), and a decrease in unethical behaviour (Suar & Khuntia 2010). In addition to this, and arguably most beneficial to management, is that a high values congruence has been shown to increase organisational commitment behaviours (Tomlinson, Lewicki & Ash 2014; Bao et al. 2013). Organisational commitment behaviours (OCB) are the extra tasks that an employee undertakes outside of the formal monetary reward system (Jaleh, Farashah Ali & Mehdi 2014). Because OCB is the discretionary work that an employee is prepared to put in without the expectation of a monetary reward it seems logical that management invest in strategies that will elicit OCB, such as striving for values congruence in the workplace. In addition to this, a study conducted in 2015 found that creativity is strengthened when organisational and employee values are congruent (Spanjol, Tam & Tam 2015). Creativity is an important outcome of values congruence, and can lead to innovation benefits for an organisation if well fostered (Shalley, Zhou & Oldham 2004). These findings collectively indicate that fit certainly does matter in the workplace, and using PO fit to recruit and retain individuals can provide a competitive advantage (Kristof‐Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson 2005). Therefore, both managers and individuals should be encouraged to strengthen PO fit, through values congruence.
One such method for strengthening the PO fit is the use of the Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) framework. The ASA framework suggests that individuals will be attracted to, and remain in, organisations that align with their own personal values (Hewlin, Dumas & Burnett 2017; Schneider 1987). Schneider (1987) proposed that individuals behave the way they do in the workplace because they were initially attracted to that environment, were selected into it, and stayed within it. Those individuals who do not fit the organisational environment will likely exit (Schneider 1987). Therefore, theoretically the organisation will be left with individuals who in general have values congruence. However, in a practical sense, this is not always the case. Where there is a weak labour market and high competition for jobs, employees may not have the freedom to leave jobs that do not suit their values (Vogel, Rodell & Lynch 2016). Despite the external factors that may contribute to attrition rates, strategies can be implemented at attraction, selection and during an employee’s tenure in order to mitigate intent to quit at a later date. Because values are enduring (Rokeach 1971) it should be noted that the expectation these can be easily changed when an employee joins an organisation is somewhat unrealistic. Furthermore, increasing values congruence is extremely difficult to both quantify and execute (Tomlinson, Lewicki & Ash 2014). Therefore, focusing on the attraction and selection components of the ASA framework will likely reap greater benefits to both individual and the organisation (Newton & Mazur 2015).
Organisations should ensure their recruitment systems work to close the gap between personal and organisational values (Deng et al. 2016; Bao et al. 2013; Vveinhardt, Gulbovaite & Streimikiene 2016), and the ASA framework provides a useful tool to guide this process by suggesting that attraction and selection will help to screen out people who do not have a good PO fit (Kristof‐Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson 2005; Schneider 1987). The solutions proposed below are divided into the attraction, selection, and attrition phases of the employee recruitment cycle.
When working to attract relevant candidates for a job, management should ensure they openly advertise organisational values, and emphasise these during the recruitment process (Deng et al. 2016; Seong & Kristof-Brown 2012; Newton & Mazur 2015). In conjunction, it would be helpful for the individual to understand the importance of their personal values, and whether these do align with the organisation they are applying for (Deng et al. 2016).
Recommendation for Managers:
- Openly promote and ensure the organisational values are made clear when attracting applicants to the organisation
Recommendation for Individuals:
- Be aware of one’s own values when making a decision whether to apply to work at a particular organisation
- Research the organisation’s values to find out early whether there is likely to be a misfit
At a theoretical level, organisational values are maintained through selection of employees that will continue to espouse their values (Suar & Khuntia 2010). The use of a values survey during the selection stage may assist in identifying applicants with values incongruence (Deng et al. 2016). There are other activities that organisations can implement during the employee on-boarding phase to mitigate value incongruence problems. Examples of these include induction trainings, reward systems for enacting the desired company values and mentoring programs with values congruent senior colleagues (Suar & Khuntia 2010).
Recommendation for Managers:
- Have applicants complete a values survey as part of the selection process to determine early on whether there is a risk of values incongruence
- Ensure organisational values are made clear during employee on-boarding activities – this can be achieved via induction and mentoring programs for new employees
Recommendation for Individuals:
- Explicitly ask the interviewer of the organisation’s values, to ensure these are clarified before further investment in the job application process.
Once attrition occurs, there is no way to unwind it. However, strategies can be implemented whilst the employee remains in the job in order to reduce intention to quit. For example, encouraging greater employee participation in the organisation’s values and goal-setting processes so that they are able to impart some of their personal values into the organisation’s value system (Siegall & McDonald 2004). Another method is at the individual level, in which employees can communicate with senior management to attempt to adapt the organisation values to fit more in line with their own (Hewlin, Dumas & Burnett 2017). From my experience, this task can be difficult. However, if an organisation is aware that an employee is feeling uncomfortable or conflicted due to values incongruence, research indicates that allowing the employee to have time off from these types of tasks is shown to be of benefit (Deng et al. 2016). An interesting alternative focuses on the individual engaging in activities that have been shown to act as a ‘buffer’ against negative behavioural outcomes of values incongruence. One such activity includes leisure and recreation outside of the workplace (Vogel, Rodell & Lynch 2016).
Recommendation for Managers:
- Involve employees in organisation goal-setting
- Provide employees with sufficient opportunity for recovery if values incongruence is known
Recommendation for Individuals:
- Leisure and recreation activities outside of work
- Communicating the uncomfortable feelings to management regarding a conflict in one’s personal values
In order to address the costs associated with employee mental health conditions in Australian organisations, both individuals and organisations need to have a greater appreciation for values incongruence and the linked negative behavioural outcomes on individual wellbeing and the organisation’s performance. I would advise my former company to review their candidate attraction and selection processes to select employees who share their company values of efficient revenue generation. In future, I will also take responsibility by being more aware of my own values and prioritising organisations that espouse a similar value set. Whilst these steps may appear relatively simple, they can reap significant benefits in the long term for employee and organisational performance.
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