For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Call of the Wild: Zookeepers, Callings, and the Double-edged Sword of Deeply Meaningful Work"

by Bunderson, J Stuart; Thompson, Jeffery A (2009)


A qualitative examination of work meaning in the zoo-keeping profession pointed to the centrality of the notion of work as a personal calling. The view of calling expressed by zookeepers, however, was closer in basic structure to the classical conceptualization of the Protestant reformers than it was to more recent formulations. We used qualitative data from interviews with U.S. zookeepers to develop hypotheses about the implications of this neoclassical conceptualization of calling for the relationship between individuals and their work. We found that a neoclassical calling is both binding and ennobling. On one hand, zookeepers with a sense of calling strongly identified with and found broader meaning and significance in their work and occupation. On the other hand, they were more likely to see their work as a moral duty, to sacrifice pay, personal time, and comfort for their work, and to hold their zoo to a higher standard. Results of a survey of zookeepers from 157 different zoos in the U.S. and Canada supported the hypotheses from our emergent theory. These results reveal the ways in which deeply meaningful work can become a double-edged sword.

Key Passage



Meaningful Work, Meaning Of Work, Psychology, Happiness, Well-Being, Empirical Study, Calling, Vocation


Meaningful Work

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