"Sticking the boot in"--the role of goal setting in motivation intervation programmes.

AuthorMaxwell, Robert


Goals play an essential role in the purposeful behaviour of job seekers, but to date scholars have not been able to communicate this knowledge to the practitioners of motivational intervention programmes. This article will present a conceptual framework for thinking about the motivational construct with respect to long-term unemployment. Another purpose is to integrate classic ideas on needs, values and goals, thus enriching the study and practice of motivational interventions. Finally, the author's aim is to present a theory of how motivational intervention programmes can increase motivation through providing participants with the opportunity to set specific, well-defined, short-term and effective goals.


Most job seeking is motivated behaviour. An unemployed person in receipt of the Unemployment Benefit must actively seek employment, and thus must have a degree of motivation to progress towards that end. Motivation as a construct has been the focus of much research over the years (Deci and Ryan 1985, Festinger 1954, Locke 1968, 1991, Maslow 1970, McClelland 1965, Ryan and Deci 2000), and more recently worker motivation has been discussed (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman 1959, Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn 1994, Vroom 1984, Vroom & Deci 1992). What is missing in the literature is a motivational construct for the long-term unemployed.

Motivational intervention programmes in New Zealand were developed by the Ministry of Social Development (2) in response to the fact that the motivation of long-term unemployed people to look for work decreases as the term of unemployment increases, as does their level of self-esteem and self-confidence (Swindells 1988, Winefield 1995). The programmes were also a recognition of the need to rebuild the skills, morale and motivation of the long-term unemployed (Regier et al. 1984).

Despite the relevance and prevalence of motivation and goal-setting activities during motivational intervention programmes, there is little scholarly research about the significance of goal setting to programme outcomes. Practitioners of motivational intervention deliver courses that include goal setting as a course component, and the limited research supports goal setting as an effective tool on outdoor adventure-based courses (Crane et al. 1997). Motivational intervention programmes have also been found to have some success in motivating their participants (Johri et al. 2004, O'Brien 1988, Swindells 1988). However, there is still a knowledge gap between the practice and theory of motivation with respect to the long-term unemployed.

Longer-term employment outcomes for this group show that at two years postcourse there is a small negative impact (0.99) when compared to non-participants of motivational intervention programmes on their employment status (Johri et al. 2004). When we think of the outcomes of motivational intervention programmes it is natural to think of employment or full-time study. While the current evidence in New Zealand indicates that motivational intervention training does not improve participants' employment prospects (Johri et al. 2004), I would broaden this view of outcomes to encompass increased social, family and community health. We know that the effects of long-term unemployment lead not only to a decrease in motivation and self-esteem, but also to a breakdown in that person's relationship with his or her family and community. These social disconnections also lead to problems in the community, such as an increase in crime, dependency, and a lowering of the individual's overall social and physical health.

I begin with a discussion of motivational intervention programmes in New Zealand to provide a context for the theory, then take look at the research on motivation theory to provide a framework for thinking about current knowledge and what areas are in need of further research. Next, I examine motivation in relation to the long-term unemployed person and the importance of needs, values and goals with relevance to job searching. An analysis of the current underlying philosophy for motivational interventions is then presented, followed by an analysis of the way in which effective goal setting is instrumental in goal attainment. Although the theories presented here have been acknowledged by prior research, the contributions have been fragmented. This paper brings together this research and integrates new ideas on goal setting from both practice and theory, in order to present a cohesive framework for the provision of effective goal setting during motivational intervention programmes. Finally, I close with suggested future research agendas.


The Ministry of Social Development contracts various providers throughout New Zealand to deliver motivational intervention programmes, with the aim of increasing "the confidence of and skills of job seekers so as to improve their chances of finding work. Such programmes are not expected to achieve high employment outcomes" (Anderson 1998). Many providers of motivational intervention are outdoor adventurebased, and draw on the knowledge that these courses improve participants' self-concept, self-efficacy, motivation and team work through wilderness-based activities (Ewert 1989, Hattie et al. 1997, Martin 1998, Mitchell and Mitchell 1989, Neill 1999).

The original provider of motivational intervention training is Limited Services Volunteers (LSV), which began operations in 1993 and is run by the New Zealand Defence Force. In 1997 alternative providers were contracted by the Ministry, including Outward Bound, to deliver residential motivational training (Swindells 1988). Currently LSV and Outward Bound are the only two providers that are funded by the Ministry on a national contract, thus enabling them to recruit clients nationally. They are also the two largest providers of motivational intervention, with other providers operating at a regional level.

The intervention environment for the long-term unemployed (more than 26 weeks) is changing, with providers experiencing more challenging behaviours from their clients as well as a lowering of the average age of clients. While we are experiencing low levels of unemployment currently, the long-term unemployed represent over one-third of the unemployed and are living in an environment of ever-increasing social problems. Thus those who are selected to attend motivational intervention programmes are in need of quality interventions that enable them to break out of the cycle of long-term unemployment.

Currently, providers expose their participants to a new positive environment in which they are given opportunities to succeed. This in turn has the effect of increasing participants' self-confidence and self-esteem (Ewert 1989, Hattie et al. 1997). While post-course motivation is said to be increased (Johri et al. 2004, O'Brien 1988, Swindells 1988), there is still little long-term effect on their employment status (Johri et al. 2004). One of the key assumptions of motivational intervention is that a short, sharp shock is an effective tool for stimulating motivation. The participant is then able to transfer or "hold onto" this new-found motivation back in their home environment, and thus have more success in securing employment.

This increased motivation post-course, while being a valued outcome, is not always enough to have a lasting effect on a participant's employment status. In many cases the missing ingredient is a set direction after course completion to channel and focus this new-found motivation into concrete valued outcomes.

I now take a closer look at the research on motivation in order to highlight the significance of motivation theory for practitioners of motivational intervention.


Many of the ideas about motivation are concerned with getting existing job holders to stay committed to an organisation, while others relate to lifetime orientations or personality differences. When looking at the motivational aspects of the long-term unemployed, we are looking at a relatively short period of that person's life, which is complicated by the multiple challenges and negative effects of being unemployed. I now take a look at the work done on motivation to lay the groundwork for motivation with respect to the long-term unemployed.

An early understanding of motivation theory was based on the construct of punishment and reward. It was inferred that people are inclined toward actions and behaviours that offer reward, and avoid actions and behaviours that have negative consequences. In the early 1900s, Taylor (1911) included in his scientific management theory the idea that good workers should be rewarded and unsatisfactory workers punished. The...

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