Nestled smack-dab in the middle of everyone’s favorite three-letter acronym is a word we don’t talk about much: Value.
When we say we’re “a great place to work,” what we are saying is that we offer some value to our employees. By working here, you get to take part in that value.
And whether or not your values are stated or assumed, a single idea or a series of pillars and principles (but not values, as in things you believe in, which is a completely different thing), the mistake is in assuming all kinds of value are equal. They are not.
Ultimately, there are two kinds of value that companies offer: objective value (OV) and subjective value (SV).
Objective value is the value that everyone sees, ones that are not a function of perception. When you buy a car, objective values are its miles per gallon, overall maintenance cost, reliability, or how much it can carry. If a car can tow one ton, you can’t “see” its ability to tow ten tons. OV are facts and traits that are inherently true.
Objective value of a job includes the salary, the benefits package, perks, bonus structures, steps in a career ladder, etc. If you are hired at a salary of $80,000/year, no amount of perceptional shenanigans turns that into $300,000/year. The salary one of the objective values you get for working there.
Subjective values are completely dependent on perceptions. They are the value you see that perhaps others can’t, or don’t… ahem… value. SVs of a car might be how it makes you feel to drive, how it makes you feel to be seen in it by your neighbor, or the story you get to tell you about yourself because you own it. But they are completely dependent on individual perception. You drive that Tesla because you think it makes you look like a forward-thinking and clever person, but someone else thinks you’re a jackass who is buying Elon’s brand of b.s. way too much.
Subjective value in a job is how much freedom you get or how much stability it offers. It could be that the products you work on are shipped and/or can be found on store shelves. It could be the connection between your work and the business impact. It could be the amount of access the job gives you to leadership. It could even be how proud you feel working for a company other people want to work at. None of these things are inherently or intrinsically valuable. What you value, I might not care about, and vice versa.
Splitting things into OV and SV isn’t an academic exercise. OV, because they aren’t based on perception, is obvious. When you get the job offer of $80,000, and when you start, you only get paid $70,000, that’s not an incorrect value assessment; it’s fraud.
As something objectively true, you really don’t have to “prove” those values. When you say, “We offer unlimited PTO” on your career site, you don’t have to show me the policy in a handbook or show me three people talking about how it’s true. As an OV, it is objectively true.
SVs are not obvious. They are purely perceptual, so you really need to prove those values. If you claim that you offer “work-life balance,” it isn’t real until you make it real.