• Value Balance Training

How high stakes professionals are turning to values now more than ever

What drives high stakes’ finance professionals in the markets and how can we increase their ‘psychological flexibility’ in order to elongate their careers, improve overall mental health, and maximise performance while still helping them to maintain focus on what matters? High stakes professionals, especially Wall Street traders, are often a population deemed to be unworthy of sympathy primarily because of the media’s betrayal of its actors as depraved and entitled—as depicted in the ever popular film, The Wolf of Wall Street. However, it appears that no one escapes suffering and that traders, whom are subject to unrelenting pressures of Wall Street’s expectations of profitability, are a vulnerable population that appear ready to undertake values based living.

In the second instalment of our blog series, we are excited to introduce VBT co-founder Tia Lancaster’s recent research on Wall Street professionals and personal values. Tia gathered together 15 traders, analysts and portfolios managers for a training workshop led by an organisational psychologist.

The workshop’s grounding was based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is a tool for those suffering with various mental health impairments and is ultimately used to cultivate changes in the way individuals think about suffering or hardship in order to live healthier and happier lives. The ACT model encourages participants to use an interactive hexagon to isolate values-based goals and committed actions with the aim of enhancing one’s psychological flexibility. ACT instructs us that that in order for an individual to be psychologically flexible they must be present, open up, and ‘do what matters’.

Ultimately, the model seeks to target both mindfulness and value-based action. Alongside ACT, Tia incorporated Shalom Schwartz’s circumflex of values into her research, which asserts that there are ten universal values (later expanded to 19), all of which have competing and corresponding features.

After running her workshop with the Wall St. professionals, Tia analysed the collected data using a tool called Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. With it, her aim was to derive meaning from conversation she had with the professionals by identifying common themes they mentioned.

After asking participants to define personal values in their own terms, they were asked to broadly define the things in their own professional, home, and personal lives that they value. Every single participant included honesty as a primary value, though many of them pointed to the increasingly dishonest nature of working in the world of finance. They all shared a common feeling of restraint under the pressure to be profitable.

Following her workshop, Tia was inspired by the unanimous emphasis on personal values, actively symbolised by one participant who was wearing a wristband that read ‘Remember Your Values’. Values are an ever-present buzz word in our society. There is little guidance on how to instil these values in our lives and most importantly how to balance them in a world where sometimes profitability and full honesty just don’t go hand in hand.

If we were to broaden the scope of Tia’s research, it seems fair to question whether all types of high-stakes professionals, such as CEOs, share the same emphasis on personal values, yet experience similar value imbalances due to the risks they square up to in their day to day lives. Thus prompted the genesis of VBT. After looking at the various pre-existing schools of thoughts and illustrations of values, it seemed about time to invent a real-life working model. VBT hereby introduces a vehicle for individuals to visualise how balanced their values are and how this equilibrium progresses over time to stimulate well-being, fulfilment, and strengthened performance in the workspace.