Press release

Publication of DWP research report 633: A Study of Language and Communication Between Advisers and Claimants in Work-Focused Interviews

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A report is published today on the findings of a study of interactions between Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers and their customers.

A report is published today by the Department for Work and Pensions on the findings of a qualitative study of interactions between Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers and their customers.

This is the first report in the DWP Research Series to make extensive use of audio-visual recordings to study adviser-customer behaviour during interviews. In addition, the study also contains another “first” - the recordings have been transcribed according to Conversation Analysis (CA) conventions that capture the detail of not only what is said but how it is said, including pauses and changes in intonation.

The key findings of the study are:

  • Analysis of transcripts allowed verbal behaviour to be linked to contrasting interview styles: successful ones were more likely to be collaborative, directive, pro-active, positive and challenging;
  • Successful interview styles were more likely to be customer-focussed rather than process-led;
  • Meaningful discussion about work was encouraged by a greater use of open-ended questions and explicit invitations (to apply for specific vacancies or  participate in programmes);
  • Language used in interviews demonstrated some PAs had pre-conceived notions of ‘realistic’ job goals, irrespective of customers’ own views and experiences:
  • Discussions were sometimes deflected by customers into conversations about medical conditions or other barriers to work, blocking constructive dialogue about how to manage these problems in a work context.

Since the research was conducted in 2007 and 2008, Jobcentre Plus has introduced a range of materials for Advisers and their Managers which draws on findings from the study.

Notes to Editors

  1. Between July 2007 and June 2008, 188 interviews between Personal Advisers and benefit claimants were filmed, covering new claims for Jobseekers Allowance; mandatory initial Work-Focused Interviews (WFIs) in Pathways to Work areas; mandatory initial and review WFIs with Lone Parents; and a comparison of interviews across New Deal and Employment Zones.
  2. The recordings took place in eight JCP offices and two EZs across four regions of England. Participation in the study was entirely voluntary with 80% of PAs agreeing to being filmed.
  3. One hundred and fifty WFIs were transcribed following the conventions of Conversation Analysis (CA) - a technique designed to capture the timing and manner of speech, including overlaps, pauses and intonation.  The remaining 38 recordings were transcribed in response to developing lines of enquiry, highlighting particular themes or variations in the way interviews were conducted.
  4. The research was conducted by researchers at the University of York based at the Department of Sociology and the Social Policy Research Unit. The report authors are Professor Paul Drew, Dr. Merran Toerien, Annie Irvine and Professor Roy Sainsbury.
  5. The study is being published at the same time as a companion study, DWP Report 634:  An Exploratory Comparison of the Interactions Between Advisers and Younger and Older Clients During Work Focused Interviews by Annie Irvine and Roy Sainsbury which analyses interviews conducted with younger and older clients. A copy of the report and summary of the research can be downloaded from the Department’s website at http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/