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.
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.
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Mortensen, D.T. (1977). Unemployment insurance and job search decisions. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 30, 505–517.