• Rasmus Ro Kirkegaard
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)
This thesis examines the coping behavior of five social workers in three Danish unemployment offices when delivering the active labor market policy to ethnic minority women, who receive unemployment benefits according to Danish labor market legislation.

Since the 90’s, the Danish welfare state has undergone a series of reforms. The reforms aim at creating a more active labor market policy and a more efficient and less bureaucratic public sector inspired by the New Public Management (NPM) perspective. In recent years, the active labor marked focus has highly influenced the political discourse about unemployed welfare recipients, and especially ethnic minority women with a high degree of unemployment. Consequently, the labor market legislation has gradually changed with the purpose of giving unemployed citizens greater incentive to get into employment, and to ensure that the social workers in the unemployment offices work more efficiently towards achieving this goal. This has had several consequences for the working conditions of the social workers in Danish unemployment offices, who deliver the labor market policy to the unemployed citizens. Because of the reforms, the social workers have to follow a series of regulatory and administrative demands, which has put them under pressure, as they have to do more work in less time and at the same time deal with contradictory working conditions. On one hand they are expected to comply with the administrative and regulatory requirements while meeting growing demands from politicians to get more immigrants into work, and on the other hand they are required to listen to the citizens’ needs and involve the citizens in the decision making process. The literature review made prior to this study shows that many frontline workers in various fields, including unemployment offices, use different coping strategies to deal with the potential gap between these numerous requirements and the resources available. But in relation to social work with unemployed minority women specifically, I have not encountered any studies that examine how the great political pressure of getting a larger part of this target group off welfare benefits affects the frontline workers’ coping behavior. However, the literature review, combined with a previous study I made regarding social workers working with this target group, has led to the understanding that the social workers in the Danish unemployment offices use various coping strategies to deal with the increased demands towards this target group. Therefore, I conducted a qualitative data collection in three different unemployment offices with a total of five social workers in order to investigate the magnitude of this phenomenon. The study is designed as a single case embedded case study where data collection is carried out by qualitative interviews. The analysis combines two different theoretical frameworks about coping during public service, where one is American professor of political science Michael Lipsky’s theoretical framework about street- level bureaucracy and the other is Danish professor of political science Søren Winter’s theory of policy implementation.

The thesis concludes that the social workers use a wide range of different coping strategies when interacting with the ethnic minority women and that the social workers in the different unemployment offices use very different styles of coping, which can either be in favor of the clients’ demands or more loyal to the regulatory and administrative demands in the legislation. There also appears to be a great variation in whether the use of the different coping strategies arises from a perceived gap between requirements and resources, or as a result of personal attitudes and a desire to maximize policy preferences, and clear indications of both scenarios exists in the interview data. In spite of the different coping styles, the thesis shows some common denominators in the coping strategies across the different social workers, where the majority perform “creaming” in which they prioritize the most motivated or proactive clients, thereby neglecting the less motivated. Besides creaming, use of personal resources can be identified among the majority of social workers by the fact that they invest extra time in work by working overtime, reducing breaks or working despite of being sick. The most prevalent coping strategy is rules of thumb, which can be identified among all the social workers. This coping strategy is identified by the fact that all the social workers have very strong prejudices about the women’s incentive to work, which influences the way they use their discretion in delivering the active labor market policy to the women.
Publication date27 Jul 2015
Number of pages114
ID: 216704107