As is standard for any Masters candidate, Erasmus student Natascha Sprado took on the daunting task of producing an original thesis paper to earn her degree. The Criminology student succeeded in this, or better yet, thrived, as she has been nominated for the Jan van Dijk Award.

Sprado not only identified a major issue between employees and clients within the UWV, the public employment service of the Netherlands, but also collaborated with the UWV to address the problems she discovered. As a testament to her work, she has been nominated for the Jan van Dijk award, given annually to the best thesis paper within the area of victim’s rights.

The UWV provides unemployed Dutch citizens with a temporary source of income while helping in the search for work, on the condition that the job-seekers adhere to the strict rules and procedures. Fulfilling the requirements includes sending applications to employers weekly as well as meeting with UWV employees on a regular basis. If they don’t, UWV employees may choose to meet with their clients to warn, cut down, or end their unemployment benefit. Such a decision can have massive fiscal and emotional implications for the job-seeker, and has regularly triggered clients to confront employees with aggressive and violent behavior.

Information is everything

Previous research showed that a small amount of employees experienced the majority of hostility from job-seekers, but until Sprado got involved, there was no explanation for why some employees experienced more aggressive behavior than others.

“I wanted to know how UWV representatives break the news to their clients about the decision. How do they handle such a conversation like that, and what happens during those conversations?” Sprado told EM. “And the conclusion is that some representatives convey the information properly and others don’t really tell anything. This is a good predictor of the problem, because you also see that some representatives experience a lot of aggression and others don’t.”

Going behind the scenes

Gaining permission to go behind the scenes of the UWV wasn’t easy, with months passing by before Sprado got the go-ahead. Once she was granted access, however, no time was wasted. She managed to collect thousands of surveys with clients and spoke personally with many employees. From there, an answer began to surface.

“If you are in the midst of a negative phase of life, chances are you’ll behave more aggressively,” Sprado explained. “This seems logical, but what the research says it that there is a strong relationship between conveying inadequate information and provoking aggressive behaviour amongst this group of clients.”

The UWV was already developing more transparent means for delivering information to clients according to Sprado, but had yet to uncover the link between adequate information and aggressive behaviour. Alarmed by the results of her research, the UWV brought Sprado in to help employees minimize feelings of frustration and aggression in clients. As for Sprado herself, she is feeling quite pleased with her Master’s thesis.

Biting into more research

“I think it’s a tremendous honour to be nominated for this award. It’s a really nice start of my career.” Sprado said. “For the future, I hope I can put my teeth in more research projects, like I did with this thesis.”

The winner of the Jan van Dijk award, along with its 1,750 euro prize, will be announced on the 23rd of January.