In a 2009 paper for Administrative Science Quarterly, J. Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery A. Thompson studied zookeepers and found that the profession was about the closest anyone in the modern, secular world comes to having a calling—the sort of intensely meaningful career that Martin Luther said could turn work into a divine offering. Zookeeping is dirty, repetitive, and poorly paid. And yet people volunteer for years, move across the country, and accept major sacrifices in their personal lives to be able to do it.
In interviews with zookeepers, Bunderson and Thompson found that their feelings about their work ran much deeper than a standard survey metric like job satisfaction could capture. Again and again, they used phrases like “I knew this is what I was meant to do” and described a pull toward work with animals starting in early childhood. The sense of calling also came with a feeling of moral obligation. Zookeepers described an intense dedication to the animals they worked with, and to the zoos’ mission of promoting conservation and breeding endangered species.
Nemes takes pride in the breeding programs that Capron Park, and most US zoos, are part of. She tells me about the black-footed ferret, which was saved from extinction thorough captive breeding and has been reintroduced in the wild. “That’s amazing,” she says. “Extinct is forever.”
It’s not just the workers who get a lousy deal. Over the years, Bob Baber, the Quiznos franchisee, became increasingly frustrated by the terms of his contract. One of the issues that galled him the most was that Quiznos was allowed to (and did) place additional sub shops in his franchise area, creating what he felt was direct competition that cut into his profits. Baber formed the Quiznos Subs Franchise Association, a sort of franchisees’ union, through which he hoped to leverage better terms. A month later, the Denver-based company terminated Baber’s franchise, claiming his restaurants were not being maintained properly, and other contractual defaults. When a franchise agreement is terminated, all investment by the franchisee—including acquisition cost, equipment, and fees—is effectively flushed away. Baber and Quiznos became enmeshed in a protracted legal struggle, with Baber refinancing his house and spending nearly $100,000. (A public relations spokeswoman representing Quiznos told us it is the company’s position to not comment on any litigation past or present.)
Despite such stories, people still buy into the franchise dream.
–Timothy Noah, in Pacific Standard, on the increasingly difficult economics of running your own franchise.
Photo: thomashawk, Flickr