Getting Company Values Wrong Can Derail Employee Experience and Workplace Culture

It’s time to value your employees’ values

Employee values — and their relation to behaviors, attitudes, mindset, compensation, and likelihood to change jobs — were essential insights in our inaugural 2021 Integral Employee Activation Index. Integral partnered with The Harris Poll again to conduct our latest Index in May 2022.

Both our 2021 and 2022 research captured perceptions of over 2,000 employees across the United States. Individuals from multiple  generations, a cross-section of industries, and company sizes shared their workplace experiences and perceptions. 

Critical new trends have emerged from our 2022 Index. These findings impact how company leadership, HR, and communications address employee engagement, especially as they seek to attract and retain the best employees. 

Before asking about organizational and employee values, we simply asked, “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement: My organization reflects my values.” This question helped provide a baseline to gauge the traits of an employer and how closely connected are employees. Fewer than two-thirds (65%) of all respondents agreed (nearly identical to 2021), indicating possible weak points in employee experience and engagement.

Knowing vs. believing in company values

As we evaluated the impact company values have on employee experience and engagement, we started with, “how well do employees know their company values?” It’s one thing to have posters throughout the building (when we worked in them) or on the job site proclaiming values. But do employers make decisions that tangibly demonstrate their values?

In both 2021 and 2022, 87% of those surveyed reported a clear understanding of their company’s values. This result is an excellent testament to how well organizations have emphasized projecting and living by core values, especially during the pandemic. The positive impact of demonstrating the organization’s values also shows how among those who have a clear sense of the organization’s values as 93% indicate they believe in their company’s values, up slightly from 91% in 2021. 

New in 2022: manager vs. non-manager breakouts

As we considered changes for the 2022 Index, we suspected there might be valuable insights comparing those who are people managers with those who aren’t. 

For example, in 2022, we compared managers vs. non-manager employees regarding perceptions of company values. In terms of knowing company values, 93% of managers indicated they have a clear sense of their organization’s values compared to only 80% of non-managers. Yet, among those with a clear sense, the difference between managers and non-managers believing in their employers’ values is small (95% of managers believe vs. 91% of non-managers).

What do your employees value?

Employees need to have both a clear understanding of company values and belief in them. But, rarely do organizations ask employees about their own personal values. We wondered, “Could there be a correlation between retaining or losing employees based on a mismatch between what employees value and what employers value?”

Both the 2021 and 2022 Index studies examine how much employees agree with a statement that their “organization’s values reflects my values.” Less than three-quarters of respondents indicated so (relatively unchanged from 2021). Meaning, more than a quarter of employees who have a clear sense of their organization’s values indicated those values don’t reflect their own, a large enough group to impact company culture and performance. 

Additionally, there’s an even more significant disparity between managers and non-manager employees with a clear sense of their organization’s values. Managers are much more likely to indicate their employers’ values reflect their own (79% of managers vs. 62% non-managers), a sizeable gap. 

Values get personal

Values, purpose, processes, policies, and rituals drive every organization’s culture. But, it’s the organization’s values that become personal to employees. Do employees know them, believe in them, and see how the organization makes decisions grounded in values? We believe that employers need to go beyond regular employee engagement surveys to better understand what values are important to their employees.

This need is borne out by the harm that can happen when employee values don’t align with their employer’s. For example, among respondents whose values don’t align with their employers,’ 40% fewer employees would stick with the organization through challenging times, go the extra mile for a colleague or client, or help someone outside their immediate team compared to respondents who indicate company values align with their own. Moreover, 28% of employees (who said their employers’ values don’t reflect their own values) are willing to quit, with 23% answering they may post a negative review of their employer online. Conversely, those who said their values align with their employers are more likely to mentor others, defend the company if it were faced with a crisis, and complete mandatory training on time. 

Opportunities for Improving the Employee Experience

Amidst the continuation of the Great Resignation (or the Great Reprioritization), employees have opportunities to change jobs or leave the workforce altogether. The cost of hiring an employee is around $4,000, so retention is key to keeping a solid workforce and saving money. A majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cited feeling disrespected as one of the reasons they left. A proactive approach to understanding employee perceptions of organizational values will help organizations build more inclusive cultures. And, hopefully, retain valued employees. 

Organizations need a deeper understanding of their most important public: employees. Employers would do well to poll their workforce to gauge how their organization’s values and actions align—or don’t align—with employees’ values and expectations. 

Shared values in the workplace are crucial to employee engagement and activation. Organizations will benefit from looking more closely at segmenting employee audiences to understand key differences in values, mindset, and behavior. 

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Download the full report of the Integral Employee Activation Index, which examines the experience, priorities, compensation, values, and viewpoints of employees. We will share additional insights to help organizations  improve their employee experience. In the meantime, follow us on LinkedIn and join our newsletter mailing list.