Thursday, 11 November 2010

Workfare & behavioural insight

Just a thought about the IDS 'work or lose your benefits' approach. Has any of this been run past the famous 'behavioural insight team'?

The reason I ask is over the past couple of years I've become a bit of a geek about work and motivation, which would seem to be a key area where behavioural insight might apply. It seems to be a pretty robust finding that if you give people a degree of discretion about what they do and how they can do it they are much more motivated than if you tell them what to do and are prescriptive about how to do it. This is all that intrinsic motivation/self-determination stuff that Deci etc have been on about since the 1970s.

More broadly the labour market in general seems to work ok (in terms of motivation) in the sense that people have (or believe they have) a choice about what job to do. What that may mean in practice, according to this guy, is that even if you end up in a dull job for low pay, you may well end up convincing yourself that it can't be that bad because a) you are still doing it and b) you chose it. Elimination of cognitive dissonance and all that.

So what happens if you end up forced to do a certain job or face being financially penalised? I can't believe that it's going to be a big plus in terms of a sense of self-determination. The approach IDS is taking seems, from my admittedly superficial lunchtime take on it, to tick the wrong boxes about getting people motivated about work. And that in turn affects general satisfaction with life.

Now people might still argue that it's more just for those on benefits to have to work for them, and that this outweighs any question of whether they are motivated about work or not. That's a political question. And maybe the cognitive dissonance process will lead people (over time) to think 'this isn't so bad'. But surely if you have a 'behavioural insight team' this is exactly the sort of issue you ought to run by them. Wonder if it happened in this case, and if so what they said.


Musgrave said...

On the other hand workfare schemes needn’t involve zero choice for benefit claimants. That is, the organisation administering workfare ought to have a range of different schemes or “employers” that potential workfare employees can choose from. E.g. any decent workfare system ought to have outdoor manual work for burley, male, former building site labourers, and something a bit more cerebral for unemployed PhDs.

Tom Powdrill said...

Absolutely. It may actually be different in application.

My issue is more does the Government believe what it says about 'behavioural insight'. It would be genuinely interesting to know if they considered these types of issues drawing up these ideas.