Your Values Can Be Compromised When You’re Under Stress
Dec. 4, 2022 Entrepreneur
In times of high pressure, aspirational core values can seem entirely impractical. Who has time for being “bold,” “innovative” or “connected” when they’re slammed by a barrage of emails and threatened by volatility or disruption?
In these situations, values are relegated to vinyl stickers on an office wall or words tucked away on the About Us page of a website. How many people can recall their company’s values, never mind using them as a blueprint for decision-making and the basis for team alignment and trust?
How workplace values emerge
Values are what is important. Whether you can articulate them clearly or not, you have values. Your company has values and they are set by the executive — not the marketing — team.
Leadership values shape employee behavior. If leaders value financial performance over all else, employee well-being, environmental impact or social connectivity may be neglected. Values contagion is a real phenomenon, and no training initiative will shift your culture if leadership values are misaligned or inconsistent. Employees roll their eyes at what they perceive as phony company values when leaders don’t walk the talk.
Values in distress
Distress arises when there is a misalignment of values. For example, imagine that you’re working late nights and sacrificing family time. If a core value is family, you’ll start feeling resentful toward work. Or perhaps you’re spending too much time caring for your family when a core value is productivity. You might then resent your family. There is no right or wrong; your values profile is entirely unique.
In life’s journey, purpose is your North Star and values are the flame lighting your way. The terrain may be challenging, but knowing what is important and acting in alignment reduces ambiguity and increases fulfillment. You’ll have a reason “why” and a torch to guide your “how.” If the flame of your values burns low, you — and your team — may feel lost. In an environment of uncertainty, we activate ancient survival mechanisms, including our negativity bias, to secure our safety.
Are values purely cognitive?
The missing link in values alignment is our physiological state. When distressed, under threat or unwell, our values shift from aspirational and collaborative to primal and protective.
There’s an ancient part of the brain called the amygdala. It scans input arriving via our senses and triggers strong emotions to help protect us from perceived threats. This can save our life if a lion wanders into the office. It saved the lives of our ancestors who navigated challenging environments where direct threats to survival were the norm. Fast forward to modern life, where inboxes overflow, amplified by pressure to perform and conflicting demands. We are our worst enemies because to manage complexity, we need to be calm, present and energized — yet we’re sleeping less and worrying more than ever.