We chat with Ruud Gerards about how benefit eligibility requirements both motivate and create stress, leading to reduced employment search effectiveness
Unemployment rates rose dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic with 400,000 people out of work in the UK and 1.2 million people applying for Universal Credit. However, it is apparent that there is still a negative stigma and general worry around applying for benefits, when unemployed, especially when eligibility requirements jar the ease of that process. We spoke with researcher Ruud Gerards to find out what conclusions he made in his research on benefit eligibility requirements and their affect on employment search effectiveness.
I gained a PhD in economics in 2012 and ever since I’ve been expanding my research and areas of interest to include unemployed job search behaviour, job search successes, and factors that influence this. I’m also interested in other areas such as employee outcomes of hybrid working and new ways of working. So, I’m part of the applied and labour economics branches of the literature and also in (strategic) human resource management. I have some connections to entrepreneurship as well. So, I have broad areas of interest.
What conclusions did you make in your research? What do you want readers to take away from it?
We [Ruud and Riccardo Welters] conclude that benefit eligibility requirements – at least in the case of the Australian system’s Mutual Obligations [MOs] – lead the unemployed to (1) take longer to become re-employed, (2) spend less time in employment, and (3) if employed, find themselves in lower quality jobs, all compared to similar unemployed not subject to these benefit eligibility requirements and despite sustained job search intensity.
Our findings accord with several psychological theories, alluding that benefit eligibility requirements are an external motivator and stressor that lower the quality of the job search process. Our findings strengthen my belief that MOs should be eliminated and replaced by a job guarantee policy.
Can you explain your thoughts on ending Mutual Obligations (MOs)? What impact would this have on job seekers?
Ending MOs would enable job seekers to look for employment without the stress inducing (financial) threat of (partial) income support withdrawal and would signal the government’s trust, instead of distrust, in the unemployed to do their best to find suitable re-employment of their own volition.
In addition, as the activities involved in complying with MOs also take up part of the unemployed’s time and cognitive resources, ending MOs would also allow the unemployed more time and cognitive resources, lowering their perceived time-pressure as we have shown in a recently published follow up study. Freeing the unemployed of these MO related stresses, will likely result in a more deliberate and focused job search process of higher quality, leading to better labour market outcomes.
Did anything surprise you whilst undergoing this research?
My biggest surprise was the amount of attention our research received on social media and news sources. I had not experienced such attention for one of my publications before and was positively surprised by it. To my feeling, we hadn’t done anything special to promote it. I’m positive that the open access status, enabling not only researchers but also the general public to read the article, was important in this.
Who would you say is the main audience for your research?
I used to say social scientists and policymakers, but I’ve seen my paper has been picked up on Twitter. I’m not even tweeting myself it just happened because of other people who read it. It [Ruud’s article] reaches a broader audience and generally socially engaged people. That’s one branch of my work, my other work will be of interest to HR practitioners.
How do you measure the impact of your research?
Besides the obvious metrics such as the number of citations, I think the Altmetric score and the number of views and the relative scores within the journal are quite insightful. I keep track of that, and even incorporated the Altmetric counter in my own website with some code just to give an idea of what’s being read and what’s being talked about. And you see that open access publications are read a lot more.
I’m also used to working with the communications departments of the organisations I’ve been working at, for instance to coordinate a press release when we think we have something broadly interesting. Our paper about benefit eligibility requirements, in Applied Economics Letters, was picked up by the Guardian newspaper who referred to our research with a hyperlink. So, that mention and the discussion on Twitter led to a lot of views of the paper.
And of course, citations, too. I always try to look up the citing articles, even if it’s among over 200 citations. I look up every one of them and I want to know in what context the work is being used and what inspired them to include my work. It might be part of a synthesis of other literature that I may be unaware of. Or my work is used to argue X and other work is used to argue Y – it’s really interesting to see the connections other researchers make and the ways they use my research. They might be doing something that I want to build on. Or I might want to incorporate it in my next research. So, it’s an academic discussion; continuous learning by looking at each other’s works.
Why did you decide to publish your research open access (OA)?
Open Access is something I always want from the outset and it’s also something Maastricht University are committed to. I always hope to publish this way because I simply see that open access publications get read more, get picked up more on Twitter discussions, and reach more people that could actually do something with your work, like make policy recommendations, and it spreads the work and the possible impact much further.
When I started publishing, there was no open access. And now it’s built into the submissions systems; the open access charges, how they are dealt with, who picks up the bill. So, for the researcher, all the barriers have been taken away.
When I published this paper, I was aware of the agreements in place between the Dutch university organisations and publishers, such that university-based researchers know that open access publishing options are almost unlimited now. So, publishing open access without a charge to myself has become the default .
Open access has no downsides for me. I would encourage all universities and research institutes to try to enter into those agreements because that’s the whole idea of disseminating research and making impact with research. If you want to get impact, you need to go open access.
What do you think are the main benefits of publishing your research OA?
That everybody can read it at no cost.
I can put it on my LinkedIn, and everyone can go to the journals website and read the full article. And then, if somebody else decides to tweet about it, it has a life of its own on Twitter. Everyone who comes across it can read the full article and it does invite invitations from media, such as The Conversation and other blogs that see it gaining traction on social media and ask to condense it as a blog post for a different type of audience. Open access publications attract more of that type of attention.
What would you say to researchers who might be nervous about publishing OA?
As an international competitive labour market between researchers, those who don’t publish OA are at a disadvantage against researchers who do. I feel open access work is being discussed more, getting higher Altmetrics and citations and those metrics also push careers. So, if you don’t publish open access, at some point, you will be at a disadvantage. So, it’s in their interest to try to push their representatives and managers to advocate open access policies.