Stimulating controlled or autonomous motivation of job seekers. What works best?

Last registered on September 20, 2022

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
Stimulating controlled or autonomous motivation of job seekers. What works best?
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0005502
Initial registration date
February 26, 2020

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
March 02, 2020, 3:50 PM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
September 20, 2022, 12:10 PM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.

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Primary Investigator

Affiliation
Ghent University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Arbetsförmedlingen, the Swedish public employment service (PES)
PI Affiliation
Ghent University
PI Affiliation
Arbetsförmedlingen, the Swedish public employment service (PES) and Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU)
PI Affiliation
Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU)

Additional Trial Information

Status
On going
Start date
2019-06-01
End date
2025-12-31
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Abstract
Finding a suitable job is a central objective of most people as it is one of the key drivers of their well-being. However, job search is a difficult process often associated with failed job applications and lost social connections, making it difficult for unemployed workers to stay
motivated. Hence, a key public policy question is how the public employment service (PES) can best strengthen and keep up the motivation of job seekers. Research in economics and psychology seems to result in conflicting advice. In psychology – Self-Determination Theory (SDT) (Deci and Ryan, 1985; 2000; 2012) differentiates between different sources of motivation. Controlled motivation occurs when people search for jobs, because they feel pressured to do so. Autonomous motivation occurs when people search for jobs because they find it interesting, or if they search for jobs because they find it meaningful and/or personally relevant. According to SDT autonomous motivation yields better results than controlled motivation in that it predicts that it leads to more effective job search effort and, hence, in a higher likelihood of finding a job. By contrast, in economics standard job search theory (JST) (Ehrenberg and Oaxaca, 1976; Mortensen, 1977) predicts that controlling job seekers stimulates job search and job finding more strongly. This research aims at empirically testing the validity of these conflicting theories.

To this aim, we set up a large scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) to study the effects of an intervention dispensed to unemployed job seekers aimed at triggering controlled and autonomous motivation. We will examine whether the intervention affects labor market outcomes and job search behavior as predicted by the SDT, or that they are consistent with standard JST instead.

The intervention consists of a series of six electronic messages that are sent for each condition that aims to be triggered (controlled or autonomous motivation) to unemployed job seekers in Sweden during the first half year of unemployment. A control group receives no messages. The initial sampling plan involved the drawing of a 2/3 random sample of all Swedes who start a spell of insured unemployment between January 20, and December 19, 2020. These individuals are in turn randomly assigned with 25% probability to each of the two aforementioned conditions and with a 50% probability to the control group. Due to the COVID-19 crisis the intervention temporarily halted and the intervention was shifted such that a new start date was set to May 20, 2020.

References:
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Publishing Co.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49, 182-185.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Motivation, personality, and development within embedded social contexts: An overview of self-determination theory. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 85-107). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Ehrenberg, R. & Oaxaca, R. (1976). Unemployment insurance, duration of unemployment and subsequent wage gain. American Economic Review 5, 754–766.
Mortensen, D.T. (1977). Unemployment insurance and job search decisions. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 30, 505–517.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Cockx, Bart et al. 2022. "Stimulating controlled or autonomous motivation of job seekers. What works best?." AEA RCT Registry. September 20. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.5502
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Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
There are two treatment groups conditions (controlled or autonomous motivation) and one control group. The controlled treatment group condition receives a series of six electronic messages (of about 100-120 words) during the first half year of unemployment (so conditional on still being unemployed). The content of these messages aims at reinforcing external pressure. The autonomous treatment group condition also receives these six messages according to the same timing, but their content aims rather at triggering autonomy, competence and relatedness, the three inborn needs of people according to the Self-Determination Theory. The control group receives no messages.
Intervention Start Date
2020-05-20
Intervention End Date
2022-06-30

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
(i) Job search effort as measured by the average number of job applications per month 2 to 7 months after entry in unemployment;

(ii) Job finding as measured by an indicator equal to one if unemployment is left within 7 months of entry in unemployment, and zero otherwise.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
(i) Number of job applications: average number of job applications per month between months 2 to 7 since entry in unemployment, using data from the activity reports. It includes formal job applications, unsolicited/spontaneous applications and job applications following vacancy referrals and proposals. Sample consists of those who submitted a report. Data are used from the activity reports; periods in which no activity reports are handed in are ignored in calculating the average. The same holds for all variables based on the activity reports.
(ii) Job finding: Defined as leaving unemployment within 7 months. Measured using administrative data from the Swedish PES. Unemployment includes full-time unemployment and participation in an active labor market program. Defined as in Cheung et al. (2019).
Reference:
Cheung M, J Egebark, A Forslund, L Laun, M Rödin & J Vikström (2019), “Does job search assistance reduce unemployment? Experimental evidence on displacement effects and mechanisms”, IFAU Working Paper 2019:25.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
(i) Job search motivation:
o Controlled job search motivation: Mean of six items from the intermediate survey;
o Controlled job search motivation: Mean of four items from the intermediate survey;
(ii) Job search effort:
o Fraction of times clicked on url's in messages;
o Activity reporting: fraction of times an individual hands in an activity report (1-3, 4-6, 1-6 months after entry in unemployment);
o Number of job applications: average number of job applications per month over the number of months considered (2-4, 5-7);
o Survey-reported job search effort: number of hours per week spent on job search activities, using data from the intermediate survey;
(iii) Job search quality:
o Spontaneous applications: Average number of spontaneous applications per month (months 2-4, 5-7, 2-7);
o Survey-reported job search quality: Mean of five items from the intermediate survey;
(iv) Job search outcomes:
o Job interviews: average number of job interviews per month considering the following months after entry in unemployment: 2-4, 5-7, 2-7;
(v) Job finding:
o Job finding: leaving unemployment within 4, and 12 months;
o Days unemployed during the first year after entry to unemployment;
(vi) Job quality:
o Employment duration: If the first period of non-unemployment exceeds 3, 6 or 12 months or not;
o Wage first job: Full-time equivalent monthly wage rate from Statistics Sweden;
o First job lasts more than 3/6/12 months;
o Job satisfaction: One item from the exit survey;
o Perceived fit: One two-item scale and three separate items from the exit survey;
o Stay intention: One item from the exit survey;
o Composite perceived job quality score: mean of job satisfaction, perceived fit and stay intention.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
For details how secondary outcomes are constructed see the Pre-analysis plan.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Because of the Corona crisis the start date and end date of the intervention was shifted (see the Pre-analysis plan for more details).

The population involved in this RCT will consist of a 2/3 random sample of all Swedes who start a spell of insured unemployment between May 20, 2020 and December 19, 2021.

There are two treatment group conditions (controlled or autonomous motivation) and one control group, all individuals who entered unemployment and registered at the Public Employment Service (PES) at some point between May 20, 2020 and December 19, 2021 (or earlier in case the PES decides to stop the intervention prematurely). The size of the control group is double as large as that of the treatment groups. The controlled treatment group condition receives a series of six electronic messages (of about 100-120 words) during the first half year of unemployment (so conditional on still being unemployed). The content of these messages aims at reinforcing external pressure. The autonomous treatment group condition also receives these six messages according to the same timing, but their content aims rather at triggering autonomy, competence and relatedness, the three inborn needs of people according to the Self-Determination Theory. The control group receives no messages.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
The randomization is based on birthday (date-of-the-year). All born on 1/6 of the days of the year is assigned to the controlled condition, 1/6 of the days to the autonomous condition, 1/3 to the control group and 1/3 to a treatment condition unrelated to our research. The days of the year are allocated to these groups based on numbers drawn by a computer.
Randomization Unit
The randomization is done at the individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Planned number of clusters is equal to the planned number of individuals/observations (see below).
Sample size: planned number of observations
2/3 of all individuals who entered unemployment in Sweden and registered at the Public Employment Service between May 20, 2020 and December 19, 2021 were sampled. In case the intervention takes place throughout the planned interventions period the sample size is estimated to comprise 275,000 individuals (calculation based on extrapolations).
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
The treatment groups are each of size ¼ of the total sample size, i.e. in expectation each 75,000 individuals. The control group is expected to be ½ of the total sample size, i.e. 125,000 individuals.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Based on the above estimations the minimum detectable effect sizes (MDE's) of the primary outcomes are for a significance level of 5% and a power at 80%: (i) for the average number of job applications between months 2 and 7 since entry in unemployment (mean = 4.2 and standard deviation = 6.0) equal to 0.0776 (or 1.8% of the mean) for the comparison of the treatment to the control condition, while it is equal to 0.0868 (or 2.1% of the mean) for the comparison of the two treatment conditions to each other; (ii) for leaving unemployment within 7 months (mean = 0.63 and standard deviation = 0.48) equal to 0.0062 (or 1.0% of the mean) for the comparison of the treatment to the control condition, while it is equal to 0.0069 (or 1.1% of the mean) for the for the comparison of the two treatment conditions to each other. The mean and standard deviation of these outcomes are estimates on the basis of historical data. More information can be found in the pre-analysis plan.
IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Swedish Ethical Review Authority
IRB Approval Date
2020-04-04
IRB Approval Number
2019-06401
Analysis Plan

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