Work happiness: why a “values-based” career could be the secret to greater satisfaction

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Lauren Geall
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Considering a career change because of the coronavirus pandemic, or simply feeling unhappy at work? Defining your values could be the first step towards a more fulfilling and satisfying working life. 

In 2020, more of us are finally waking up to the importance of being happy at work. The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to reflect on what’s important to us – and in doing so, has given us a chance to re-evaluate how we spend our working hours.

As a result, many people are now reconsidering their career choices; according to recent statistics from jobs platform Totaljobs, 70% of workers are now more likely to consider working in a different sector as a result of the crisis.

And people aren’t just reconsidering where they work, either – research by the professional women’s network Allbright recently found that three-quarters of the women they surveyed have been inspired to start a business after the pandemic, with a quarter already doing so.

All in all, the last couple of months have been a period of upheaval for working culture – and as we move into the last few months of 2020, many of us will be thinking about how we can get more out of our working lives in 2021.

According to Abby Dixon, an award-winning business owner and careers coach at The Whole You Coach, one of the most effective ways of doing this is to pursue a ‘values-based’ career. It may sound complicated, but all it means is identifying your values – the energy and motivation behind your goals – and making sure your work aligns with those beliefs.

“Values are activities, behaviours, beliefs and qualities that make your soul come alive,” Dixon explains. “They are the principles by which you want to live your life, professionally and personally. Having this understanding allows us to make better choices, meaning we prioritise things that give us greater satisfaction and fulfilment.”     

A woman working from home
Work happiness: your values can function as guidelines for your career.

Knowing our values doesn’t just help us to identify the kinds of work we’d like to do and organisations we’d like to join, it can also inspire better ideas and help us to communicate better in the workplace.

“It is fantastic to see so many women taking this period of adversity to take stock and grab hold of their dreams, goals and aspirations,” Dixon says.

“But it’s not always easy to take that leap. Whether you are stuck in an unsatisfying role or are yet to find your calling, it’s often because something fundamental about your situation does not play to your values and simply changing jobs may not remedy that.”

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Dixon continues: “Often we become dissatisfied at work (and in our wider lives) because we are not spending enough time living or playing to our values. When there is an alignment between our career and core values we can enjoy greater satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment.”

To learn more about how to pursue a ‘values-based’ career, and help you define your own values, we asked Dixon to share her process. So grab a pen and paper, and get ready to take the first step in your new career journey.

What you’ll need…

  • Time: “It takes time to work out your values, but this time away is a valuable investment as it will soon become a checklist for any decisions you make,” Dixon says. “Make sure to take yourself somewhere quiet and away from your normal routine. Banish any guilt about you-time!”
  • A helping hand: “Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone with you to do this, to listen to you and help identify themes,” Dixon explains. “This can be a trusted friend, colleague or coach. My only caveat is that you pick someone who doesn’t know you too well as this may hamper his or her ability to be subjective.”
  • A place to write things down: “This could be a journal, paper or an iPad – somewhere to record your thoughts and ponder the questions we’re about to ask,” Dixon says.
  • Self-care: “You’re going to be addressing some big topics here,” Dixon points out. “Doing a values session and then heading to an all-team meeting at work may not be the best idea. But a walk, little nap, etc. may be kinder.”

How to define your values

Notebook and pen
Work happiness: defining your values is all about reflecting on the things that matter the most to you.

First of all, Dixon recommends noting down your responses to the following questions:

  • What brings me joy?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What am I doing when I feel at my best?
  • What am I doing when I’m at my worst?
  • What do I value in others?
  • Which do I dislike in others?

“Next, we’ll look back at five key moments in your life and uncover why these memories are significant to you,” she explains. “What’s important here is not what was happening but what that moment gave you or what you were lacking. For example, if a common theme or highlight is spending time with friends and family, your value might not be about being social, because it’s about what those occasions gave you. Instead, it may be a sense of belonging, connection or community.”

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To unpick these five key moments, Dixon recommends working through the following questions, again noting down your answers:

  • When were you living your best life, what were you doing?
  • What was it about this moment that makes it so significant?
  • Identify 5 moments when you were at your lowest point?
  • What was happening?
  • Why was this important to you?

After you’ve worked through these questions, you’ll want to ‘cluster’ the themes and give them a name to help you compartmentalise your approach.

“By this point you are probably starting to notice overlap in themes, scenarios and words that have come up during these exercises,” Dixon says. “Now you can see patterns you can cluster those that align with others and begin to draw up headings. Don’t do this too hastily – sense check if some are actually different from one another or in the same area or territory. For example, ‘advising’ and ‘listening’ can sometimes seem to cross over very closely but are actually very different!

A woman writing
Work happiness: writing down your answers can help you to notice overlaps in themes and scenarios which can reveal your values.

“Once you are happy with your clusters, here’s where you can start naming them. Again, don’t rush this. You may need some help or inspiration, here’s a list of core value descriptors that will help.

Dixon continues: “Once you have arrived at a set of values (usually around four to six), it’s important for you to define them. Describe what each word or value means for you in a line or two. Two individuals may have faith as a value but for one it means having belief in religion or a greater power and for another it may mean faith in actions and all they do.”

How to put your values into practise

“Once you have identified your values, now can you embed them in your daily life,” Dixon says. “That’s where the real work and magic begins (and where you’ll get the best reward).

“It’s about becoming aware of when what you are doing fits your values or if certain situations are going against your values, and using those insights to find a way forward. Do you need to find a different organisation or role that allows you to play to your values? This might mean reflecting on them with a trusted friend or coach. It might mean just taking ten minutes to read back over your list and asking yourself how the choice in front of you aligns with those values.”

Although defining your values might not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to workplace happiness, it’s a great way to learn more about yourself and what matters to you.

In our fast-paced world it can often be difficult to find the time to sit back and reflect on what we’re thinking and feeling – by forcing you to sit down and reflect on the activities, responsibilities and scenarios when you’re feeling at your best, defining your values can help you to feel more confident going forward.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.