Understanding values and their role in human life


It is possible to design our life through a value system.

What are values?
Human values are most important in life—so important that people are and should be ready to sacrifice almost anything to live with their values. Honesty, integrity, love, and happiness are some of the end values or destination values that human beings seek to attain, practise and live with. On the other hand, values such as health, money, fame, status, intelligence, and so on are the means values or path values which help achieve the end values. The end values and the means values are also known as terminal values and instrumental values respectively. While the end values are constant, and guide us to achieve the higher order goals, means values are temporary in nature and help us achieve comparatively lower-order goals.

How are values formed?

RG Ratnawat

People’s value system comprises both sets of values—terminal and instrumental—which are developed and reinforced through the culture in which they grow on one side and the environment on the other. Socialisation from parents, religious institutions, friends, personal experiences, and society contribute to the formation of values in individuals. The individual values are affected by our belief system, prevailing social systems, and to some extent socio- economic conditions. The terminal values are formed over the years, whereas the instrumental values are determined by situations.

Why is it important to know about values?
Knowing our values helps us achieve clarity regarding why we do what we do, and accordingly stay on track and live a consistent life. All our actions and decisions are affected by our values. Anthony Robins, in his book titled Awaken the Giant Within states that values guide our decision and, therefore, our destiny. Those who know their values and live by them become the leaders of our society. Knowing our values helps us design our life goals since we know what is most important for us today and on an ongoing basis. Values are as important as competencies to achieve our goals. Knowing others’ values is equally important to understand their behaviour and the causes behind it. We can also understand their decision making by understanding their values. While terminal values provide us a sense of fulfilment, richness, and reward, the instrumental or temporary values provide us a direction to achieve our life goals sticking to the terminal values.

How to identify our values?
The simplest method to identify our values and that of others is to prepare a list of what is most important to us, both personally and professionally. Then, these can be segregated into terminal values and instrumental values. It is worth periodically repeating this exercise since the instrumental values keep changing. The best time to review our values is the time when we review our goals.

Is it possible to form / change values? If yes, how?
Yes, it is possible to decide a set of values, especially terminal values and live with them. The only thing it needs is a strong commitment to our goals and the actions involved to achieve these goals. Living with permanent values means going to any extent to follow these values without bothering about the consequences. If speaking the truth is our value and by speaking the truth if we invite some trouble, so be it. The process of adopting values involves moving towards those values. Similarly, it is also important to identify the values that guide us in moving away from the experiences that we want to avoid. This process is basically moving away from undesirable values or changing the undesirable values.

Are values relevant at the workplace?
Yes, clarity about our values is helpful at any stage of life, including working life since values guide our actions and behaviour that decide our destiny. If you have a set of values, your chances of getting a job, especially in organisations that value your values, become high. The individual’s values are a good predictor of her/his behaviour in the workplace. Hence, the organisations would certainly prefer a candidate with clarity about her/ his values, in addition to the required competencies. While in a job, your values guide your behaviour, which ultimately builds your brand over time.

The values especially help us make decisions when we have a dilemma. We simply need to ask ourselves, ‘What is important for us in the given situation?’, in other words what is our value?

However, there is a disconnect between the values and the day-to-day behaviour of people in the real world. Most people are likely to follow their values on a day-to-day basis if they are reminded of them. The organisations, therefore, need to periodically remind the employees of the organisational and individual values through relevant activities and programmes.

Final word: Since values are as important as competencies, it is worth mentioning our values in our CV. Organisations can mention ‘expected values’ in the job description or competency profile to ensure better hiring decisions.

(The author is Director ITM-SIA Business School).


  1. i agree to what you said.But there is a downward trend all over the world, due to the well known reasons and it is not easy to reinforce values in people.
    Everybody wants lots and lots of money at any costs.For this the person is ready to do anything,wants just money without any commitment to anyone/ any value/any country/any humanity.

    • There is a downward trend towards having any value all wnats money only without any commitment.
      How to reestablish importance of values in human life?

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