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Insights from a knowledge broker on meaningful work

hikma collective knowledge translation value alignment Mar 17, 2022
An illustration of three figures filling a bookshelf with multi-coloured blocks. One figure looks on as the two others, one standing on a chair and the other climbing a ladder, place golden coloured blocks onto the bookshelf. A mischievous black cat climbs across some golden blocks stacked on the floor. A grey cat sleeps peacefully on a pink pillow underneath the bookshelf.
 Julee Farley shares her experience as part of the Great Resignation when she realized she was selecting workplaces based on her values. She shares her process of reflecting on values and being empowered to find a workplace that aligns with them.
 

 

I was one of the early members of the “Great Resignation”, the trend of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs starting in the spring of 2021. I enjoyed working with my co-workers and appreciated my job, but I had been contemplating a move to a larger city for some time, and I felt it was finally time to make the leap. I resigned from my job and relocated about 400 miles to a bigger city that’s closer to family. I became one of the millions of workers to voluntarily leave their job. I was fortunate that I was able to save up money to fund the move and planned to be out of work for a few months. In addition to moving, I planned to take a few classes in the gap between jobs to gain new skills. I continued my professional networking and maintained my contacts. I knew the gap between jobs would be challenging and rewarding as I upended my life to start afresh and made big changes.  

My work was to bridge the gap and create meaningful partnerships between the university and K12 schools, to ensure practice informed research, and that research informed practice. I describe this work through the language of “knowledge translation” and “boundary spanning.” Boundary spanning creates links between groups, and knowledge translation ensures that research makes its way into the hands of practitioners. When a researcher was uncertain how their innovative research on solar-powered batteries could potentially be useful to teachers, we discussed how fourth graders learn about circuits and battery power and appropriate terminology to use in the classroom. Through my work with different groups and employers, I’ve learned how large an impact workplace values can have on my daily happiness. 

I anticipated so much about my move and period of unemployment, but what I did not anticipate is a complete block and inability to translate my own skills from one workplace context to another. A process that was so easy for me to do for others, something I had done so many times, I found nearly impossible for myself. I saw others and their skills and knowledge so easily, but I was unable to see myself. I found this inability to see myself incredibly frustrating. It felt like it was keeping me from being able to get a job. I wrote cover letters and resumes. I read job descriptions, and articles on how to pass applicant tracking systems. I applied for jobs. I interviewed for jobs. And I did not receive an offer. I began to doubt if I even had any skills at all. 

What I did not realize is that I was having such difficulty translating my skills to different workplaces because I wasn’t selecting workplaces based on skills; I was selecting workplaces based on values. 

 

For me, skills can be learned and taught, but alignment of mission is a person’s most valuable characteristic.  

 

I wasn’t always aware of my work values, and I didn’t have a conscious work mission. I just tried to do work that I liked, or found meaningful in some way, or thought would build my skills. I was lucky enough to be able to pursue what felt the best for me, and I tried to leave positions that weren’t fulfilling for me, or that I found frustrating, or where I too often got an icky or uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Without knowing it, I was unconsciously following my values. Sometimes I stayed in positions that didn’t align with my values for too long and got burned out; however, over the years, I’ve gotten better at determining when a job aligns with my values and when it does not.

I can assure you that the most efficient way of determining your work values is not through trial and error, like I initially did, but through a more deliberate process of reflection. Work values are different from your aptitudes; you don’t have to be good at being creative in order to value creativity. When I started to deliberately determine my values, here’s the process I went through.

 

Write your values down 

I started to think about, talk about, and journal about what my work values were and what my goals in work were. Other ways to identify your values can be to think about what makes you afraid, anxious, or frustrated or looking up a list of value words and circling the ones that resonate with you the most. Once I was able to determine what my goals were, I wrote them down so that I can reference them later and make sure that I have a reminder of why I’m doing the work I’m doing and to make sure I stay in alignment. And if you’re still stumped, here are some questions to think/talk/journal about to get you started:

  1. How do you want to feel at work and about the work you are doing? What feels great and what doesn’t feel so good?
  2. Write about days or tasks you enjoyed the most at work and what you enjoyed the least. What’s the difference? What about the work or your work environment made you feel this way?
  3. Is something missing from the work you are doing? What is it? 
  4. What does your vision of success or failure in your career look like? How does that relate to your values?
  5. Are you creating a legacy? How do you want to be remembered? How will you tell your story?

 

Order your values

What values are non-negotiable for you, and what are you flexible on? If you have a job that lets you fulfill three out of five values, is that enough? Get clear on what’s most important to you and re-order the values you wrote down to be in some order relative to what’s most to least important for you. It doesn’t matter whether you know the exact rank order of your values but you should know if honesty is more important than autonomy. 

Check employers for value alignment

As a job seeker, it’s your prerogative to examine your potential employer’s values and decide whether they align with what matters most to you. Remember that workplace values can shift as new workers and new management come in and leave the workplace. Over time, you may want to reevaluate the values of your workplace and decide whether you are still aligned. You may even have the opportunity to help shape the values of your workplace.

Many employers have a list of values on their website, and you should check those out. You might also be able to check out tax forms they have to complete. Want to work for a non-profit? Check out their tax form 990 to compare their stated values with the way they spend donor money. What actions has the company taken in the past few years? Talk to current employees. Ask them what the workplace is like.

Throughout this process, you have the right to determine your own values and decide whether current or potential employers live up to your standards. Even though you may not be able to take action right away (not everyone can leave their job), knowing your values can help give you future direction, whether that’s finding a new job or taking on some new projects at your current job. You have power and a choice, and your values can be a powerful guiding force in your future.

 

Julee Farley is a knowledge broker who creates lasting, bi-directional research-practice partnerships. She believes that everyone should have access to the resources they need to imagine their dreams and achieve their goals, and she uses her experience to research impactful interventions and design inspirational outreach and engagement experiences. She earner her PhD in Developmental Psychology from Virginia Tech.

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