Work Values

Work ValuesIn career development theory and counseling, vocational fitness is generally accepted to be the result of congruence between the characteristics of occupations and the individual differences among people. Abilities, skills, and interests were the individual differences traditionally thought to be most salient. Recently, a third set of personal variables has been entered into career theory: work values, or preferences for aspects of a job, occupation, or career. Many other kinds of work values are of interest, tapping such constructs as respect for others, the primacy of family, honesty, living frugally, and the like.

Assessing Work Values

Over the years, there have been many inquiries into the nature of work values in counseling and industrial psychology. The concept of work values harkens back to the early studies of job satisfaction, in which it was found that job characteristics such as pay, safety, or working hours could be valued differentially and summed into a single index of satisfaction. It followed naturally to inquire into differential valuing of various attributes of an occupation or a career.

Two lines of conceptualization and research on work values are currently prominent: Rene Dawis and Lloyd Lofquist’s Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) and Donald Super’s multinational Work Importance Study (WIS). Dawis and Lofquist assembled a measure of 21 “needs” to which diverse attributes of jobs or work are responsive. They are all positive in tone, such as achievement, variety, and creativity. The developers’ extensive research with workers at many levels of the employment strata found that values are robust predictors of job satisfaction and that different jobs and occupations offer satisfaction to different combinations of needs.

Factor analysis of the 21 needs yielded six combinations, which they labeled as values. They are as follows:

  1. Achievement: feeling of accomplishment, using one’s abilities
  2. Comfort: comfort on the job, absence of stress
  3. Status: recognition, dominance over others
  4. Altruism: helping others, doing good
  5. Safety: structure in the job, predictability
  6. Autonomy: independence, being in command

Satisfaction, derived from the correspondence of workers’ values and job reinforcers, combined with “satisfactoriness” derived from the correspondence of workers’ skills and abilities and job performance requirements, result in workers’ tenure, being retained, promoted, or terminated.

The parallelism of the terms need and value in the two lines of research led Super to attempt to differentiate them. He viewed the two concepts as two sides of the same coin—needs representing something lacking and seeking satisfaction, and values representing the satisfactions that are sought. He believed that both lead to the activities in which needs or values are satisfied, which is to say, interests.

In a multinational study, the WIS team of researchers formulated 18 values adaptable to any work role. Having been derived from some of the same sources, 12 are identical or very similar to those of the TWA. Of interest is their inclusion of “risk,” which is not in the same positive frame of reference as the remainder of their list and is not of the TWA set. Factor analysis reduced the 18 values to five factors, which were identified as follows:

  1. Utilitarian: achievement, prestige, ability utilization
  2. Self-actualization: personal development, ability utilization
  3. Individualistic: autonomy, lifestyle
  4. Social: social interaction, social relations
  5. Adventurous: risk, authority

The WIS found a remarkable degree of consistency for these factors in the value set across the 11 countries on five continents included in their study. Of more importance was the finding that the most prevalent values across all nationalities were personal development, ability utilization, and achievement, or in sum, self-actualization. Super and Branimir Sverko are careful to point out that all of their subjects had attained some degree of education, which in many of the countries they studied would be indicative of valuing self-actualization. On the other hand, willingness to take risks, as well as valuing prestige and authority, were of little importance.

Assessing Work Values In Career Development

The two streams of research on work values have fostered two career development applications of their two assessments. The values survey used in the Super and Sverko study was published for use in career counseling, but has unfortunately gone out of print. A precursor, Super’s Work Values Inventory (SWVI-R) has been revised by dropping three scales thought to be redundant with interest constructs and lengthening the remainder. It is available for use in career applications. Donald Zytowski cautions that occupations are not as homogenous for value orientation as they are for interests, so a work value profile should not be applied exclusively to select an occupational objective. At middle and secondary school levels, the inventory is probably best used to illustrate the utility of developing a concept of one’s values and to help individuals identify attributes of work and occupations that might be of greatest importance to them. With college students and adults, value assessment might be profitably applied to prioritizing or selecting among several “interesting” possibilities.

The WIS values assessment has been adapted for counseling use as the Work Importance Locator (WIL). It uses a card-sorting procedure with 20 of the original needs to rank-order the importance of six values. One is hand scored and includes a list of occupations that are responsive to each value orientation. The other version is administered online and scored automatically. Users of both the WVI and the WIL can access the master list of occupations that are responsive to their value orientations in an O*NET Occupations Master List. This online document lists 15 to 20 O*NET occupations at five educational levels for each value orientation. The instructions for application of the list cautions that it should not to be used for hiring or employment decisions but is most appropriate for career exploration and counseling purposes.

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  1. Dawis, R. V. and Lofquist, L. H. 1984. A Psychological Theory of Work Adjustment: An Individual-Differences Model and Its Application. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Super, D. E. and Sverko, B., eds. 1995. Life Roles, Values, and Careers: International Findings of the Work Importance Study. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Zytowski, D. G. 1994. “A Super Contribution to Vocational Theory: Work Values.” Career Development Quarterly 42:25-31.