Professor Wins Award for Research on Meaningful Work

While most marvel at the exotic animals in zoos, one Marriott School professor became fascinated by the zookeepers and their dedication to their careers. That fascination turned into research, and the findings captured the interest of the academic community as well.       

Jeff Thompson's article on rewarding employment, "The Call of the Wild: Zookeepers, Callings, and the Double-Edged Sword of Deeply Meaningful Work," earned the attention of the selection committee as the winner of the 2010 Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Division Outstanding Publication award.

"It was a huge surprise, something I never thought would happen in my career," says Thompson, associate professor of public management. "I see the names of those who have won these awards in the past and feel very honored to be on the same list with them."

With more than 19,500 members in more than 100 countries, the Academy of Management (AOM) is the largest and oldest professional association for management scholars. Since 1988 the AOM has yearly recognized outstanding scholarly research. A committee of ten organizational behavior scholars reviewed the articles, with 16 finalists chosen. On Aug. 9, Thompson along with co-writer J. Stuart Bunderson, professor at the University of Washington in St. Louis, Mo., will be recognized in Montreal, Canada.  

"This is head and shoulders a standout," says the 2010 selection committee, in Thompson's congratulatory letter. "Combining qualitative and quantitative methods and set in a fascinating context, the Bunderson and Thompson article is highly innovative and suggests some really interesting insights as to why work is meaningful."

Thompson and Bunderson have been collaborators since they were Ph.D. classmates at the University of Minnesota more than a decade ago. Early in their collaboration, the friends and scholars decided to research those who were passionate about their work, without considerable financial gain or glamour, and its effect on employer relations. As they struggled to determine the subject for their research, inspiration came at an unlikely time — when they took their families to the Cincinnati Zoo.

The duo decided to focus on zookeepers and over the years have surveyed more than 1,300 of them from 157 zoos across the country. Thompson and Bunderson found a common theme: the zookeepers saw their jobs as a calling in life. Although the initial purpose of the study was to examine those who felt passionate about their work, the focus of the study shifted to, "What does it mean to have your work be a calling in life?"   

Thompson says he hopes his research causes others in all fields to reflect on their calling in life.   

"It's very gratifying when people self-evaluate as a response to reading the article," he says. "I see work as sacred. It's how we serve one another. We should see our work as a means of serving others, instead of a way to get ahead." 

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems, and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Joseph Ogden (801) 422-8938
Writer: Sarah Tomoser