Job Satisfaction: What Is a Dream Job, Anyway?


Jun 20, 2024


Finding a fulfilling career is no small matter. The average adult will work for about 90,000 hours, or one-third of their life. Most of us would prefer to spend that time doing our ideal job. We say we have the greatest job satisfaction when our work feels purposeful and significant. But what is a dream job, anyway?

A dream job isn’t one-size-fits-all. Job satisfaction is as unique as the personality of every individual—and it’s rooted in values. Leaders’ values determine organisational values. Workers whose values align with those of the organisation feel the greatest job satisfaction, engagement, and belonging. They are more likely to be productive organisational citizens. Meanwhile, those whose values differ will probably feel unfulfilled and may seek work elsewhere.

Before we explore the organisational implications of meaningful work, let’s look at why we can seem so driven to pursue a dream job.

Finding a Fulfilling Career

The human impulse to seek careers with the highest job satisfaction has an explanation in socioanalytic theory. According to socioanalytic theory, humans have always lived in groups and group dynamics affect our motivations and actions. Three universal motives direct human behaviour: (1) getting ahead of others in the social hierarchy, (2) getting along with others in our group, and (3) finding meaning. Finding meaning relates to both our individual sense of purpose and our group’s purpose, especially our work group. Work is not exclusively how we find meaning in our lives, of course. Other ways include religion, philosophy, the arts, social causes, family legacy, and many more. But work can and does significantly contribute to our sense of fulfillment.

For groups in general, the shared values of the group members create the group’s values. For organisations, the shared values of the leadership team create the organisation’s values—regardless of what may be stated on the website about the company culture. Leaders who value entertainment and having fun at work will schedule happy hours and other social events, believing their employees value pleasure as much as they do. An employee who shares this value will likely feel rewarded, while one who doesn’t may respond with indifference or aversion. The alignment or misalignment between an employee’s values and the organisation’s values strongly affects employee satisfaction.

Most of us have an instinct about what we value. For example, we know if we’d view a social event with coworkers as a good reward. Personality assessment offers a science-based method for understanding how values affect personal and professional preferences, job satisfaction, and employee engagement.

How to Measure Values

We use a Hogan personality assessment called the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) to measure people’s values, interests, drivers, and even unconscious biases. Values explain what goals a person will actively strive to attain, such as belonging, quality, attention, or self-reliance. People tend to feel job satisfaction when a job meets some or most of their individual values. If a person’s work ever fulfills all of their values, they may feel they’ve found a dream job.

Someone who thinks a fulfilling career includes helping others might become an educator. Someone who gets job satisfaction from analytics and data might become an engineer. Similarly, someone motivated by both altruism and applied science might say engineering instructor is their dream job.

Ideally, a person’s values will align with those of their team, leaders, and organisation. Humans prefer to share values within their groups in this way. Shared values simply make it easier to understand each other and get along. A team of cybersecurity professionals with low tolerance for risk might experience disruption or derailment if led by a manager who tests limits and embraces ambiguity. Likewise, that manager with high risk tolerance might not stay long in a cybersecurity company with a culture that emphasises order and predictability. We humans tend to be happiest in environments that are consistent with our values.

While values matter to individuals, they are significant to organisations too. Next, we will consider how values impact organisations.

Organisational Impact of Job Satisfaction

Values impact organisations in four main ways: (1) individual motivations, (2) person-organisation alignment, (3) leadership style, and (4) unconscious biases. Organisations that understand this and assess employee values can understand candidates’ likelihood of job satisfaction, motivate and engage employees, improve team cohesion, and describe their organisational culture.


Drivers are values or preferences that motivate an employee. Drivers affect employee engagement because people want to feel that their work is important. Only 23% of global workers find their work meaningful and engaging.1 Engaged employees drive organisational performance and innovation. For instance, someone who cares deeply about financial interests and growing wealth would likely be engaged as a fund manager at a private equity firm.

Robert Hogan, PhD, founder and president of Hogan Assessments, described the impact of values this way: “Values come into play when people have to make a choice.” Values help individuals and teams decide what to say, how to behave, what goals to strive for, and how hard to work for them. Someone who seeks enjoyment will act differently from someone who seeks acknowledgement. Likewise, a team that values challenging the status quo will perform differently from a team that values cooperation.


Values alignment refers to how similar an employee’s values are to an organisation’s values. The degree to which employee values align with organisational values strongly affects talent acquisition and retention strategy. With all other things being equal, the optimal hire may be the candidate whose values most closely match the organisation’s. Alignment also explains how an employee reacts to organisational culture—that is, their level of job satisfaction. When people don’t feel a strong sense of belonging in their work environment because their values are misaligned, they are more likely to turn over.

“If the culture is consistent with your values, you’ll like working there,” Dr. Hogan said. He described a serious mismatch on a marketing team for an engineering company. One individual highly valued creativity, innovation, and quality, while the other nine valued functionality and analytics. The creative employee left after four months—a significant cost for the company. “If the values don’t align, you’re done,” Dr. Hogan added.

Leadership Style

In the context of values, leadership style refers to the culture a leader creates. “Culture is about values,” said Dr. Hogan. A team’s culture is determined by a team leader’s values, just as an organisation’s culture is created by its top leadership’s values. “Values determine what a manager rewards and punishes. What a manager rewards and punishes creates a culture for the organisation.”

For example, a leader who values recognition will likely reward employees by praising them publicly. This leader will likely promote their team’s achievements throughout the organisation. Given the right context, this leadership style can be excellent. Team members who desire public accolades would feel appreciated. But what about team members who are uncomfortable with or indifferent to public recognition? A development opportunity for the leader would be to adapt their typical leadership style to engage those employees. Without that insight, the culture the leader creates could contribute to turnover.

Unconscious Biases

“Values operate at an unconscious level,” Dr. Hogan explained. Unconscious bias occurs when we project our perceptions about what is desirable or undesirable onto others. This affects organisational culture. For instance, a leader who values competitiveness and self-reliance will assume others feel the same. They may have trouble understanding or appreciating those who prefer teamwork and building consensus.

Unconscious bias can also impact selection decisions. An interviewer who disapproves of nontraditional behaviour might disqualify a candidate who is less conventional. The interviewer might even do this unconsciously. Although unconscious biases aren’t always destructive, they are always significant, especially when they come from a leader or a person in a position of power.

In Pursuit of Job Satisfaction

We all seek fulfilling careers because we want our work lives to be meaningful. People who understand their own values are more likely to find meaning in their work. But values aren’t only worth awareness and individual job satisfaction—they’re also good for making mindful, values-based decisions. For individuals, values provide development opportunities to help us relate to others and improve our leadership. For organisations, values affect the ability to identify and retain effective leaders and engaged employees who will be productive and get results. “Values are incredibly powerful,” Dr. Hogan observed. “Values are the vehicle of culture.”


  1. Gallup. (2023). State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report


*This article originally appeared on Hogan Assessments.


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