Edición 56, Human Resources

Fifteen years measuring work values with the EVAT test

By: Luis Arciniega

Values are mental processes that can transform our basic needs (survival, belonging-social recognition, and group transcendence) into core goals that guide our lives and impact our attitudes, behaviors, and decisions.

In this way, a young computer expert satisfies his fundamental need to belong to a social group and obtain recognition by its members: by becoming an expert in a specific programming language, always keeping up to date in the knowledge of his field, and seeking to be a perfectionist in what he does. Or a tenacious social entrepreneur struggles through adversity to operate a SME organic coffee processer that contributes to the sustainable social development of the community where she was born and raised, so that her town prevails and transcends its circumstances.

More than 15 years ago, in order to measure those mental processes as contextualized in the world of organizations, the Work Values Scale (EVAT, its acronym in Spanish) was developed. The main objective was to create a test that was easy to apply (both by its fill-in format and because it could be completed quickly) and based on a solid theoretical model. Although there was already a long tradition of measurement of values toward work, virtually all of the tests created up to that point had arisen in the field of vocational behavior, with the specific aim of helping high school students choose their profession. Moreover, the two most popular tools for measuring work values in employees at the time had certain limitations. One the Comparative Emphasis Scale (CES) was not based on a solid theoretical structure, and used a rank-order scale that required weighing of the values in question. Weighing of values hinders the application of questionnaires to people with a low educational level, increases the amount of time to fill it out, and it restricts the use of some statistical tests. The other popular instrument at that time was the Achievement Motive Questionnaire (AMQ), which, though easier to administer and based on a theoretical model validated in a number of countries, did not consider key values in the world of organizations, such as power, influence, authority, or prestige. Faced with these factors, it resorted to adopting the model from the Schwartz theory of value content and structure – the most widely used in the field of social psychology to study individual values – as a theoretical framework of reference to analyze and measure values toward work.

Schwartz’s model establishes that any value, of any person, can be classified into one of 10 types (or four higher-order values), considering the motivational goal pursued by the value in question. Figure 1 shows the four higher-order values measured by the EVAT, located at the ends of each of the large bipolar dimensions that form the two visible dates, as well as the typologies of specific values that are contained for each high-order value. In one of the bipolar dimensions, two opposite high-order values are clearly identified. One, openness to change, includes all the values whose common denominator is constant change, like the pursuit of one’s own intellectual and emotional interests, and at the other end, conservation, which brings together all the values relating to the maintenance of the status quo and the search for stability in personal and group relationships. The other bipolar dimension contains the high-order values self-enhancement and self-transcendence. The first deals with values that share the motivational goal of the ongoing pursuit of self-interest over the interest of others (i.e., trying to prove that one is above others and that one’s ideas and decisions are the best), while at the opposite end is found self-transcendence, which includes values associated with the ongoing pursuit of the welfare of others above one’s own good. Table 1 shows the specific definitions of each of the values contained by a higher-order value.

The EVAT measures the four higher-order values of Schwartz’s model through 16 items. Each item briefly describes the behavior of a person, which reflects the value being evaluated, and in each description the person who takes the test is asked to rate the degree to which the person described lies on the scale between (1) is totally different from me to (7) is identical to me. The reader is cordially invited to complete the test by clicking here. To get the score for openness to change it is necessary to average the values for the questions 1, 5, 9 and 13; for conservation: questions 2, 6, 10 and 14; self- enhancement questions 3 7, 11, 15; and self-transcendence : questions 4, 8, 12, 16. Once the scores are calculated, the most interesting thing is to locate where scores lie with respect to the large sample of nearly 5,000 employees from all geographical regions of Mexico. To access the table with the national percentiles, simply click here. n the following paragraphs, some of the uses of the EVAT are described, both in the field of research and in the management of human resources.

When people assume a new position or begin to work at a new company, this generates a series of expectations regarding how challenging their new tasks will be, how enriching they’ll find their coworkers, how effective their new boss will seem, and so on. Over time, employees make a comparison between their expectations and what they really experience on the job. If the expectations are met or exceeded, they will experience satisfaction; when reality is below these expectations, they will feel unsatisfied. When making these comparisons, employees they tend to use referents: that is, other employees whom they perceive as equal. Functioning on the assumption that people high in self-transcendence values tend to pay less attention to the cost-benefit analysis between what they give and receive from their company, and that they tend not to be obsessed with comparing themselves with others, a study was conducted of 3,201 employees in Mexico who worked in 30 different companies, to analyze if their work values influenced their levels of job satisfaction. The results showed conclusively that employees high on self-transcendence were consistently more satisfied with their jobs, irrespective of the facet of satisfaction (supervision, co-workers, compensation, development, stability) being measured. Conversely, those with high self-enhancement tended to be dissatisfied, because they constantly increased their expectations.

Although employees with a high level of job satisfaction tend to be punctual and rarely miss work, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that satisfied employees are more productive, do more than their job description demands, or make extra efforts when the company is in trouble, work behaviors that are predictable in employees with high organizational commitment, specifically a high affective commitment. Organizational commitment is the psychological attachment that employees develop toward their company and is manifested in three facets or components: a) I am there because I want to be there and I like working for this company (affective); b) I am there as a mere material-instrumental convenience or because I do not have better opportunities in the job market (continuous); and c) I am there because I feel a moral obligation to remain at my company (normative). In order to analyze whether the work values of the employee could, to some extent, predict their organizational commitment, a study was carried out in eight companies in northeastern Mexico using a sample of 982 employees. The study compared classical factors that have been shown to impact the development of employee commitment, such as the knowledge of organizational objectives, perceived empowerment, the effectiveness of the training received, and the work values of the employee. The results of the study indicated that employees high on self-transcendence tend to have a greater predisposition to develop an affective commitment toward the company. With regard to the continuous, employees high on conservation and low on self-transcendence were found to have the highest levels on this dimension, which confirms that these individuals seek to keep what they have, do not run risks, and have little concern about others.

Some Practical Uses of the EVAT

The EVAT has been used, for example, as a tool to measure the effectiveness of a comprehensive training program on clinical ethics given to physicians and nurses at one of the largest hospital networks in Latin America. The free, online, six-month course was distributed in five modules (for example: medical ethics or methodologies for ethical discernment), and was designed to train health professionals to make ethical decisions when faced with the kind of complex dilemmas found in their everyday working lives at clinics and hospitals. The EVAT was used to identify changes in the priorities of work values of the 973 participants who took and passed the course, applying the test before starting the program and once they passed it. The results of the study revealed important, statistically significant changes in self-transcendence and openness to change, increasing their average and decreasing their variances. Another, incidental finding was that medical personnel with high self-transcendence scores were found to be more satisfied with their jobs, since the values associated with self-transcendence (benevolence, altruism) are aligned with the ultimate goal of medical practice.

The EVAT has also been used to identify priorities of the values toward the work of traffic police officers in the metropolitan area of Lima. The main objective of the study was to compare if the priorities of values toward the work of law enforcers were listed in accordance with the hierarchy shown in the police profile published by the Legal Defense Institute of Peru, in a representative sample of 203 members of this union, and if there were significant, identifiable differences between the men and women who performed the job. The profile of priorities found was the following: (1) self-transcendence; 2) openness to change; 3) conservation; and 4) self-enhancement, which coincided with the ideal profile, with no significant differences found between men and women in either the order or the scores of the four values.

The fallout from the global financial crisis of 2008 triggered a period of severe unemployment in Spain. As a result, Barcelona’s city government, through one of its community service publications, recommended that its unemployed citizens deepen their self-knowledge by taking psychometric tests, including the EVAT, to help them identify their work values and seek greater professional guidance.

Fifteen years since its development, the EVAT has proved to be a useful tool for measuring values at work, both in the field of research (as in the trenches of Human Resource Management), and as a tool for self-knowledge. Its use has extended beyond Spanish-speaking countries, and there is evidence of its good performance in other Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Italian.

Recommended reading:

Altamirano, et al. (2013). Promoting networks between evidence-based medicine and values-based medicine in continuing medical education. BMC Medicine, 11:39

Arciniega, L.M. y González, L. (2000). Desarrollo y validación de la escala de valores hacia el trabajo EVAT 30. Revista de Psicología Social, 15, 281-296.

Arciniega, L.M. y González, L. (2005). Other-oriented values and job satisfaction. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 4, 128-132.

Arciniega, L.M. y González, L. (2006). What is the influence of work values relative to other variables in the development or organizational commitment? Revista de Psicología Social,21, 35-50.

Arciniega, L.M., González, L., Soares, V., Ciulli, S., y  Giannini, M. (2009). Cross-cultural validation of the Work Values Scale EVAT using multi-group confirmatory factor analysis and muldimensional scaling. The Spanish Journal of Psychology. 12, 767-772.

Grimaldo-Muchotrigo, M.P. (2008). Valores hacia el trabajo en un grupo de policías de tránsito de Lima metropolitana. LIBERABIT, 14, 71-80.

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