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Do values still matter in the workplace?

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

08 November 2012

This week, new research from the CIPD found that ‘Two fifths of employees do not believe business values are worth the paper they are written on'. Whilst this finding is not particularly surprising, we cannot stress this enough: it is crucial for organisations to assess how their values are being perceived internally, by the employees who are – most often – expected to ‘live the values’ day-to-day.

In the CIPD’s survey, 40% of employees said that employers don’t punish, or even reward, individuals who don’t maintain the organisation’s values. Only a third said that individuals were reprimanded for consistent rule breaking. There is an important lesson for employers to learn: your employees are very sensitive to a mismatch between externally projected messages and the internal culture of the organisation. They will test the strength of your promises, and failure to act on them will lead employees to withdraw their effort and commitment.

This is not to say that organisations should do more to punish unruly employees. Previous research by The Work Foundation has found that most individuals want to do a good job – but they expect the organisation to hold up its end of the bargain. For example, as the CIPD research finds, many of those in the public sector feel that there is one rule for senior managers and one rule for everyone else, highlighting the importance of consistency and accountability at all levels within the organisation.

Over the past few years, some organisations in the banking sector have appeared in a less than plausible light, particularly where it has been shown that their internal practices have not matched the externally espoused values. As a result, not only did those banks suffer negative customer reaction, but they also experienced lower levels of engagement among their own employees. This year, together with Bank Workers Charity and Robertson Cooper, we have launched a major investigation into the lives of workers in the UK banking sector. Our early findings suggest that many of those employees – regardless of the bank they work for – are affected by the reputational challenges in the sector. Many told us that they were embarrassed to tell others that they worked for a bank.

At the same time, we know that loyalty and commitment to the organisational brand can go a long way in terms of increased engagement and productivity - a vital consideration in the competitive environment of the private sector.

Despite significant investment in well-being inside organisations, the CIPD survey results and the early findings from our research  suggest that employers – at least in the banking and finance sector – could do more to understand and manage the internal perceptions of the organisational brand and to bridge any gaps between their externally-facing values and the values of individual employees.

Recession or not, many employees are still driven by meaningful jobs and a desire to change  the world around them. Organisations need to step up to this opportunity and engage their workforce – values are worth a whole lot more than just the paper they’re written on.