Case Workers: Survey of Job Center Staff in Hamburg

(Last modified August 2012)

This research project surveys the attitudes and opinions of job center staff in Hamburg toward their work. Funded by grants from Diakonisches Werk Hamburg, Evangelische Akademie der Nordkirche, Kirchlicher Dienst in der Arbeitwelt, and the trade union Ver.di, the project understands case workers as actors of the welfare state and seeks to elucidate the (changing) circumstances of their work, their working interactions with claimants, their perspectives on job center practice, and their personal interpretations of their professional role and opinions on social policy.

The job centers are a prototype for the modernization of public service provision. Their case workers come from diverse professional, career, and institutional traditions and work with a very heterogeneous target group. Since the benefits reform of 2003 (SGB II), conflicting legislative, political, and judicial decisions have generated stress and uncertainty for many job center staff.

This research project examines the opportunities, stresses, and conflicts for job center staff that emerge from their changing conditions of work and employment, and whether and how these impact concretely on their day-to-day working routines and on service provision for claimants. Changes and disruptions to work routines and provision of entitlements will be followed and analyzed from the staff perspective.

The role of the personal case worker is given outstanding importance in the present conception of service provision (SGB II), with a remit to combine support with both pressure and encouragement to find work. From the claimants' perspective job center staff enjoy broad discretion to interfere in their daily affairs and way of life. The interviews will address the relationship between greater discretion and restriction of professional alternatives through legal and organizational demands and targets, as well as interviewees' understanding of their own role and professional objectives and the possibilities to implement these in practice.

Altogether 15 to 20 scripted interviews will be conducted with job center staff in different districts of Hamburg. Interviewees will be selected to reflect a range of different prior positions (unemployment office, social security office, or seconded from Deutsche Telekom, German Railways, or the Asklepios clinics) and responsibility for different categories of claimant. The project is run in collaboration with Diakonisches Werk Hamburg and will end in spring 2013 with publication of a brochure documenting, interpreting, and evaluating the interviews, and a public meeting to present the results.