What are core values and why do they matter at work?

What are core values and why do they matter at work?
SEEK content teamupdated on 04 December, 2023
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Core values are the driving principles that guide you in your personal and professional life. Sometimes we are aware of our values, and sometimes we aren’t - but knowing what they are can help you beyond just knowing more about yourself. They influence how you interact with others, your behaviours and some of life’s biggest decisions. 

Living authentically with your values can help bring a sense of inner peace, fulfilment and it can also enhance your overall well being. They can be helpful in creating a rewarding career, especially where you work for a company whose organisational values align with your own. 

But how do you know what your values are? In this article, we’ll step you through the process of identifying your personal values and how they translate to both your personal life and the workplace. We’ve also included a list with over 100 examples of personal values to help you on your journey to discovering the things you truly care about.

What are core values?

They are the personal values that guide your behaviours, decisions and actions. They are a compass that helps you determine what’s right and wrong in different situations. You know that weird gut feeling you get when faced with a choice or moral dilemma? Yeah, that’s your moral compass signalling to you! 

Your values will often reflect the principles that are important to you, so they tend to form a large part of your identity and how you see yourself. But values aren’t just relevant to your personal life, they can also play a role in your career too. 

In the workplace, values are known as ‘company values’. They’re the fundamental principles or beliefs that guide a company or team to achieve a common goal. They help shape the culture, behaviour, decisions and actions of individuals within an organisation. 

For many, the key to creating a harmonious work/life balance lies in finding a workplace whose company values align with your own.

Are core values the same as beliefs?

While our personal values, beliefs and attitudes all help guide our interactions with the world around us, they are their own distinct concepts. 

Beliefs are the things we think to be right or wrong. They’re often shaped by our experiences and as such, can change with time. Our beliefs influence how we view the world, and they can impact our attitudes and behaviours. On the other hand, attitudes are evaluated judgments or emotional responses towards people, concepts, situations or things. They’re influenced by your beliefs and values and in turn impact how you approach situations and interact with others.

So all in all, while they are connected, values are not the same as beliefs.

How to identify your personal core values

Your personal values help you navigate through life, but have you ever stopped to consider what your personal values actually are? 

Understanding your own personal values is a key part of getting to know yourself on a deeper level. But identifying your personal values is often easier said than done, and calls for deeper self-reflection.

Uncovering your core values

To help you better understand yourself and your values, we’ve put together a guide on how to identify your personal values list. As you work through each of these steps and their respective questions, take the time to write down your thoughts and reflections. You'll likely find that certain values consistently emerge and resonate with you. These are the values that likely form the core of who you are and what you believe in. 

1. Reflect on your experiences

Take your time to reflect on your life experiences, both positive and negative, and the moments that have had a significant impact on you. Think about situations or times when you felt proud, fulfilled or aligned with your true self - these can be from both your personal and professional life. 

By reflecting on these experiences, you can begin to identify the foundational values that are important to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When have I felt the most authentic and aligned with my true self? What values were present in those moments?
  • When have I experienced inner conflict or discomfort, and why did it arise?
  • In challenging times, what values do I rely on to stay grounded and navigate difficulties?

2. Identify your non-negotiables 

One way to identify your personal values is to consider the things that you refuse to compromise on. These are the morals, ethics and beliefs that are your non-negotiables. By identifying the drivers that have helped you to make tough decisions in the past, you can move closer to understanding who you are at your core.

  • If I had to sacrifice something for the sake of preserving my values, what would I be unwilling to compromise?
  • What topics, thoughts or actions do I find myself being stubborn on?

3. Consider the people you admire most

Who do you look to for guidance in life? Whether it’s a mentor, someone in your family, or a close friend, your role models reflect the values you want to have or improve. Identifying the personal values of those you admire and respect can inspire you to embody those values yourself.

A few questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What virtues or qualities do I admire in others and strive to emulate?
  • How do their values align with your own values?

4. How do you want to be remembered?

What impact or legacy would you like to leave? It’s fine to think about the big picture here, but it could also be something as simple as leaving a lasting impression on colleagues if you were to ever move on from that job. 

Here are some helpful questions to spark some thoughts:

  • What values do I want to be remembered for?
  • If I could only pass on a few values to the next generation, what would they be and why?

5. List your values

Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on your experiences, non-negotiables, role models and your lasting legacy, it can be a little easier to piece together your personal values list. Start by identifying the broad values that align with you. Think about qualities you admire in others, the principles you want to live by and the ideals you aspire to uphold.

These questions will help jumpstart your personal values list:

  • What beliefs or principles have been constant throughout my life, regardless of circumstances?
  • What qualities or principles are most important for guiding my decisions and actions?
  • What values do I believe are crucial for creating a positive impact on the world around me?

6. Identify values that don’t align with you

If you’re struggling to identify the values that you identify with, it can be helpful to work backwards and strike out the values that you don’t find important instead. Here are some quick questions that may help this process:

  • What values hold little to no meaning in my life?
  • Are there any values that I can’t relate to?

7. Prioritise your values

Once you’ve identified all the values on your personal list, you can start to review your list and prioritise the values that you resonate with most. Narrow down your list to around three to five values that you really align with. 

To help with this process, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which values are deeply ingrained in your sense of identity?
  • Which values align with my long-term goals and aspirations?

Define your values

Once you’ve identified your values, it can be worth spending some time reflecting on what each of these values mean to you. Write a brief description for each that highlights their meaning on a deeper level for you. This will help you to create a clear understanding of each value.

To jump start this process, ask yourself:

  • If I were to summarise what matters most to me in a few words, what would those words be? 

Review your personal values list

As you continue to live your life, have different experiences and gain new perspectives, it’s perfectly normal for your values to change. Revisit your personal values from time to time and adjust your list if necessary.

  • Do the values on my list still resonate with me?
  • What values are essential for my personal growth and self-improvement?

Live by your values

It’s one thing to identify your values, but it’s another to live by them - letting them guide your choices, actions and interactions with others. Once you’ve identified your values, it can be easier to understand why you feel the way you do in different scenarios. It can also help you to better understand how and why other people behave differently.

  • What values do I want to prioritise in my relationships with family, friends and colleagues?
  • What values would I want my ideal self to embody?
  • What aspects of life do I want to dedicate time and effort to, regardless of external pressures or influences?

Identifying your values doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a personal journey of self-discovery, so take your time and allow your insights to open to you gradually. Your values may change with time, so it can be a good idea to revisit these principles every now and then. 

100+ list of core values 

With many different values, coming up with a list of your own can be challenging. So, to help you identify and narrow down your personal values list, we’ve included a collection of core value examples for you to choose from. As you read through this lineup, reflect on which values resonate to help create your own list. 

Mindset

Personal values relating to your mindset shape your attitude, outlook and overall mental approach to different situations. They guide how you perceive and approach various aspects of life, challenges and opportunities. These values help shed light on how you approach your own thoughts, emotions and personal development journey.

Here are some examples of personal values that relate to your mindset:

  • Abundance
  • Balance
  • Curiosity
  • Discipline
  • Flexibility
  • Gratitude
  • Growth
  • Mindfulness
  • Openness
  • Persistence
  • Positivity
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-care
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-improvement
  • Self-reflection
  • Self-respect
  • Self-worth
  • Wellness

Attitude

Values relating to your attitude explain how you interact with others, respond to situations and present yourself to the world. These values influence your demeanour, communication style and overall behaviour in various contexts. They guide your social interactions, the way you express yourself and how you treat others. 

Here is a list of values that have to do with your attitude.

  • Accountability
  • Adaptability
  • Ambition
  • Assertiveness
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Decisiveness
  • Determination
  • Enthusiasm
  • Focus
  • Initiative
  • Leadership
  • Optimism
  • Passion
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-motivation
  • Tenacity

Behaviour

Personal values related to behaviour guide your interactions with others, shape your reputation and contribute to a positive social environment. They reflect your character and the ethical framework you use to navigate your actions and decisions. Upholding these values helps you build meaningful relationships and foster a positive reputation.

Here are a few values that can influence how you behave:

  • Authenticity
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Forgiveness
  • Generosity
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Kindness
  • Loyalty
  • Patience
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Selflessness
  • Service
  • Tolerance
  • Trustworthiness
  • Understanding
  • Vulnerability

Emotional states

Emotional states encompass the principles and beliefs that guide how you navigate and manage your own emotions, as well as how you approach and interact with the emotions of others. These values influence your emotional wellbeing, your ability to empathise and your overall emotional intelligence. 

Some values influencing emotional state can include:

  • Acceptance
  • Calmness
  • Contentment
  • Courage
  • Curiosity
  • Delight
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Excitement
  • Gratitude
  • Happiness
  • Hope
  • Humility
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Openness
  • Passion
  • Peace
  • Serenity
  • Sympathy

Intellectual traits

Your intellectual traits incorporate the principles and beliefs that foster your approach to learning, knowledge, critical thinking and intellectual growth. These values influence how you engage with information, your attitude toward education and your commitment to personal development. They guide your efforts to expand your understanding of the world and make informed decisions based on thoughtful analysis and reasoning.

Some of these intellectual traits include:

  • Analytical
  • Creative
  • Critical
  • Curious
  • Discerning
  • Empirical
  • Intuitive
  • Logical
  • Observant
  • Rational
  • Reflective
  • Resourceful
  • Strategic
  • Systematic
  • Thorough

Spiritual states

For some, spiritual values play a significant role in shaping who they are. These values influence your beliefs about the meaning of life, your relationship with the universe and your sense of purpose. Ultimately, these personal values related to spiritual states contribute to your inner fulfilment and connection with the world beyond the material.

Here are some values associated with spiritual states:

  • Altruism
  • Awareness
  • Compassion
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Harmony
  • Humility
  • Inner peace
  • Love
  • Mindfulness
  • Selflessness
  • Service
  • Spirituality
  • Surrender
  • Unity
  • Wisdom

How to implement your values in the workplace and personal settings

So it’s easy to see how your personal values guide your actions, behaviours and interactions. And while it’s important to live by these values in your personal life, they can be used to help create a rewarding career

If there’s a disconnect between your personal values and the values at work, chances are you’re going to feel unfulfilled, unmotivated and unhappy on the job. As a result, more people are becoming conscious of company values and whether or not they align with their own personal values. 

How to live by your core values

If you’re looking to implement your values in your personal or professional life, there are a few key strategies you can follow:

  • Assess professional opportunities: One strategy to make sure you’re living by your values in both your personal and professional life is to find an organisation whose values align with your own. Do your best to look for workplaces that share your guiding principles. And don’t be scared to ask for company values examples and how they integrate them into the workplace. It’ll benefit both you and your employer.

  • Communicate your values: What better way to share your values than being open and transparent about what matters to you? Communicate what you stand for and why it’s important to you. You might just inspire others around you to do the same!

  • Stay consistent: Consistency is key. Ensure that your actions and decisions consistently reflect your values, regardless of the circumstances. Picking and choosing when to live your values is confusing for you and those around you.

  • Lead by example: Model your values in your behaviour. Demonstrate what it means to live by your principles to inspire others.

  • Adapt and evolve: You may find your values evolve over time as you experience new things and meet new people. As you grow, be sure to revisit your values and reflect on any changes.

How leaders promote and model values in the workplace

Staff in leadership positions play a key role in promoting and modelling values. Leaders act as role models within an organisation, so it’s essential that their behaviour exemplifies the organisational values consistently and authentically. 

Effective leadership can help to create a positive impact on organisational culture, boost employee morale and improve overall company success. When leaders demonstrate their commitment to these values, it encourages other staff members to embrace and embody them as well.

Benefits of living by your core values

Living by your values provides a range of personal benefits that can contribute to your overall well being, fulfilment and sense of purpose. Simply spending time to identify your personal values helps you develop a deeper level of self-understanding, so you can get to know what truly matters to you. 

It can provide you with greater confidence in your decisions while encouraging personal growth and self-improvement. But ultimately, living by your values allows you to experience a sense of inner harmony and peace, knowing that you are living in accordance with your guiding principles.

The benefits of workplaces implementing core values

From an organisational perspective, implementing clear workplace values allows you to attract individuals who resonate with your organisation's culture, which can lead to better recruitment and better employee retention. 

Employees who feel aligned with the organisation's values are more likely to be engaged, motivated and invested in their work, which can help to boost productivity, leading to organisational success.

How your values can help others

But beyond yourself and the workplace, living by your values can have a significant positive impact on other people in your life. Your value-driven behaviour and actions influence those around you, which can create a ripple effect of positive change. Living by your personal values can inspire others to embrace their own and make positive changes in their lives. 

The dark side of core values

While there are plenty of benefits that come with embracing personal or organisational values, it’s also important to acknowledge the impact that going against your values can have on you as an individual, and on an organisation.

What happens if you ignore your values?

Not living by your values can lead to a range of consequences that can affect your mental and emotional wellbeing, relationships and personal growth. When you act against your personal values, you can create inner conflict, leading to feelings of guilt, shame and dissatisfaction. 

It can impact your self-esteem and create a ‘push-pull’ feeling (referred to as ‘cognitive dissonance’), leading to feelings of stress and anxiety. When you don’t live truthfully to your values, it can cause confusion in others, placing strain on your relationships, both personally and professionally. 

Can companies fail to live up to core values?

Just as we personally can ignore or fight our values, so too can organisations. And just like us as individuals, workplaces that fail to live up to their values are likely to experience negative outcomes - like an impact on their bottom line. 

It’s essential for companies to integrate their organisational values throughout their actions, decisions and culture. Failing to do so can result in reputational damage, loss of trust and even financial consequences. 

There have been numerous high-profile examples of organisations that have failed to live up to their values, but a big one involved a social media giant. This company violated its ‘people first’ value by mishandling personal data from millions of users without their knowledge or consent. This affected the company’s stock value and reputation, and resulted in a large financial cost to the business.

How to address core value violations at work

In instances where values have been violated, taking accountability is key to reclaiming the company’s integrity and reputation. Taking the time to thoroughly investigate the violation and communicating a plan for remediation to all stakeholders can help demonstrate your company’s commitment to upholding its values. 

It’s essential to learn from these mistakes by embracing continuous improvement and implementing preventative measures. In short, identify where the mishap occurred, investigate how it happened, find a resolution and put measures in place to prevent it happening again. 

Although you may not realise it, each and every day your values guide your behaviours and interactions. They’re the principles that matter to you most and they’ve shaped you into the person that you are today. From covering examples of values in the workplace to how to identify your personal values system, you should be well on your way to developing a deeper connection with yourself and what makes you tick. 

FAQS

Can values change over time?

Absolutely! It’s normal for your values to change over time as you experience different things and move through different stages of life. As you learn, evolve and develop as an individual, it’s likely your values will change, too. 

Personal growth can influence your priorities and what you consider important, including your personal values. Values are connected to your life journey, so your values and how they change (or remain constant) are unique to you.

Is it possible to have too many values?

On an individual level, if you think you have too many values, it’s possible that you haven’t spent enough time reviewing and narrowing down your personal values list to identify your main values. While it’s entirely possible to connect with multiple values, it’s likely that you prioritise 3 to 5 values.

In an organisational sense, it’s possible to have too many values. Promoting too many values can cause confusion among staff, making it difficult to know where the company stands in certain situations. Around three company values forces leadership to get to the root of what they stand for.

Can values be taught?

Values can be taught and are often integrated into educational programs to help support children’s learning and development. Values are often taught by parents who model values to their children throughout their upbringing. 

Engaging in open and honest discussions about values can help people better understand different perspectives, while encouraging critical thinking about various moral and ethical dilemmas.

How can I ensure my organisation's values align with my personal values?

Ensuring that your personal values align with your organisation’s values is key to creating a harmonious and rewarding work environment. Understanding your own personal values can help you to gain clarity on the type of work or career you’d like to pursue. 

Aligning your personal values with company values requires careful consideration, clear communication and a commitment to consistently modelling your values. With that said, achieving perfect alignment between your personal values and that of your workplace isn’t always possible, so you might need to compromise in some areas - so long as it doesn’t go against your values. 

Can values be in conflict with one another?

Yes, values can sometimes conflict, which can be very confusing! These situations arise when upholding one value comes at the expense of another principle that’s equally important to you. These types of conflicts can lead to ethical dilemmas and can make the decision-making processes a lot more challenging. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling to make a choice due to conflicting values, it's important to take a thoughtful and balanced approach. Consider the potential consequences of each outcome and don’t be afraid to seek guidance from others. Experiencing conflicting values is a normal part of life, but it also provides opportunities for growth, self-awareness and ethical decision-making.

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