In academic circles “value incongruence” is defined as the difference between an individual’s personal value hierarchy and the perceived value hierarchy of an organisation. Put alternatively, value incongruence describes a phenomenon that an employee’s values and priorities are at odds with those of their organisation and employer. 

What leads to value incongruence?

Value incongruence can occur as early as the initial recruitment process if applicants or employers do not take the opportunity to communicate their core values – perhaps incorrectly assuming that sharing such information is unimportant as it is not directly related to the job role.

It’s also common for employees or employers to intentionally claim desired values to make a favourable impression. For example, a candidate may say they are deeply customer-focused when monetary rewards provide a greater motivation, or a company may boast of a deep commitment to CSR, when in reality their activities only extend as far as making donations rather than taking any personal action.

Value incongruence can also be a result of organisational change, particularly if the new way of doing business deviates from values the company previously held. If employees cannot fully accept the company’s new focus they are more likely to feel dissatisfied and increasingly outcast from the organisation.


Why value incongruence matters?

Value incongruence can result in employees developing negative attitudes towards their role, their organisation and themselves. When confronted with value incongruence, employees can expend so much energy suppressing their own values or amplifying values they do not hold in an attempt to fit in that they fall prey to fatigue and risk burnout. Employees can thus be very disengaged and decrease their productivity and performance. They are also less likely to participate in or support activities they perceive as falling beyond their job requirement, limiting their organisation’s ability to innovate. Value incongruence, unsurprisingly, can thus lead to higher turnover intention, making it difficult for employers to retain staff.


Who is vulnerable to value incongruence?

The extent to which value incongruence brings negative consequences on employees’ energy and performance depends on employees’ affectivity, a stable measure of individual differences in the experience of positive or negative emotions. Recent research indicates that value incongruence is more detrimental to employees who tend to feel active, cheerful, and enthusiastic (i.e., those who are happier in general), because value incongruence induces negative emotions, exhaustion, and tension which contradict their positive affective orientation. These individuals are motivated to reduce such emotional dissonance and thus spend more time and effort on regulating their emotions, consuming energy that could otherwise have been used for performing their tasks. Accordingly, organisations should not ignore employees who seem happy but instead proactively help them when they are confronted by value incongruence.

How to prevent and manage value incongruence?

To prevent value incongruence, employers should first identify their core values and provide clear information in recruitment advertisements about organisational values to attract applicants with similar value orientations. Job interviews may also assess applicants’ likelihood of value incongruence to help recruiters make informed selection decisions. 

Employers should also be aware of the differences between “espoused values” - the company's declared set of values and norms and “enacted values” – values and norms that are exhibited by employees in the organisation. Employees can still experience value incongruence when their values are different from those enacted by majority of their colleagues in the organisation, even though they were attracted by and embrace the organisation’s espoused values. 

Employers can also take a job redesign approach to prevent value incongruence and manage its negative consequences, if changing employees’ or the organisation’s values is impossible. For example, employers can think of assigning employees to tasks that are less likely to induce value incongruence, or designing work schedules that provide employees with sufficient opportunities for energy recovery if value incongruence is inevitable in performing their jobs. 

Finally, value incongruence is not always a bad thing. Employees who possess different values could bring a different perspective that benefits organisations by enhancing decision making quality and innovation. While being aware of the negative consequence of value incongruence, it is worth considering that value incongruence also denotes value diversity, which could contribute to organisations positively.

Dr. Chia-Huei Wu is assistant professor of management at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Some materials were initially published in IvyExec.