Locked Up: Exploring the Complex Nature of Conflicting Values Systems and Their Effects on Work Attitudes

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Values are individuals' enduring perspectives on what is fundamentally right or wrong (Rokeach, 1973). These perspectives affect how people interpret their surroundings and interactions with others; individuals act in accordance with, and judge others' behavior by, what they believe is right (Bandura, 1991). Values have been studied extensively in the organizational literature, focusing on how individuals' values (such as honesty or achievement) affect their job attitudes (such as organizational commitment and job satisfaction; Ravlin & Meglino, 1987). While values and their effects on employees have been widely studied (Braithwaite, 1994; Cable & Edwards, 2004; Judge & Bretz, 1992; Rokeach, 1973; Ravlin & Meglino, 1987; Schwartz, 1992, 1994; Tsui & O'Reilly, 1989), they are often categorized into competing or conflicting frameworks (e.g., Cameron & Quinn, 1999; Schwartz, 1994). However, emerging evidence suggests that some competing values might actually be held simultaneously by individuals (Braithwaite, 1994; El-Sawad, Arnold, & Cohen, 2004; Kerlinger, 1983; Tetlock, 1986). If this paradoxical scenario is true, these values may actually interact, rather than displace one another. While cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) and balance theory (Heider, 1946) --- central in psychology and organizational literature --- predict that individuals cannot hold conflicting values simultaneously without suffering from negative consequences like stress, I argue otherwise. This dissertation examines the extent to which individuals can hold conflicting values simultaneously rather than dichotomously, explores the mechanisms through which they do so, and also examines the effects of such value composition on employee attitudes. This is accomplished through two studies: first, a survey-based examination, and second, an in-depth inductive study. Both of these studies investigate these questions about conflicting values in a sample of correctional officers, and their values towards crime (punitive and rehabilitative ideals).

Results indicate support that conflicting values can be simultaneously held by individuals, and that they interact to produce positive, rather than negative, job attitudes. More specifically, I find that correctional officers who hold both of these values have higher levels of perceived fit with their organization, higher levels of organizational commitment, and lower levels of burnout than officers of other value combinations. Inductive results of the qualitative portion also add explanatory value to the question of why and how this can happen; qualitative results show that correctional officers often draw from both value-perspectives in order to complete their difficult job duties in effective and balanced ways.