The Jobs Project for the Unemployed:

A sense of control, mastery and social support are crucial elements in sustaining mental health. That is the conclusion of many recent studies of employed groups ranging from factory workers to astronauts. A growing body of literature also links these constructs to the motivation of unemployed people from all kinds of work to engage in effective job seeking to regain employment.

What can be done to enhance social support, the sense of mastery and job search motivation among the unemployed? What effect will a preventive intervention with these goals have? And what can research on the unemployed teach us about preventive intervention overall?

These are some of the questions being asked by Michigan Prevention Research Center (MPRC) researchers as part of the JOBS Project begun in 1984. The researchers include: Amiram Vinokur, Robert Caplan, Richard Price, & Michelle van Ryn. Funded by the National Institute for Mental Health*, the JOBS Project involves the design and evaluation of a preventive intervention aimed at providing job-seeking skills to promote reemployment and to combat feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and depression among the unemployed. The JOBS Project has completed the conduct of two successive randomized field experimental studies with over two years follow-up in each study. Both studies yielded a number of positive results (Caplan, Vinokur, Price, & van Ryn, 1989; Vinokur, Price, & Schul, 1995; Vinokur, Schul, Vuori, & Price, 2000).

*National Institute for Mental Health, Grant P50MH38330.

The program attempted to maximize the opportunities for the participants to engage in active learning processes. These processes involved group brain storming to diagnose problems as well as to suggest active coping solutions and ways to overcome potential obstacles or barriers. Thus, throughout the program, participants were encouraged to analyze their situation for problems or potential difficulties, and to generate their own solutions. Amiram Vinokur explains, "A person who feels he or she ‘owns’ the solution to a problem will be more committed to implementing the solution." The group setting, he adds, is also crucial because "even if the person can't come up with a solution, he or she is exposed to people who can."

Much of the intervention's rationale derives from research on vigilant coping that shows that people under pressure often narrow their search for solutions and tend to become prematurely invested in a certain course of action. "Vigilance promotes the search for problem-diagnosis and alternative solutions," MPRC researchers say. Participants are trained in diagnosing unemployment problems and generating alternatives for re-employment. Moreover, they receive inoculation against setbacks that protects their motivation and mental health when setbacks occur (Vinokur & Schul, 1997). As Caplan explains, "People need to anticipate setbacks and build up repertoires to cope with counter-pressures."

The JOBS intervention also derives from theory that emphasizes the importance of self-efficacy, the knowledge that one can succeed, as a motivational force for attempting difficult behaviors. The JOBS intervention was designed to provide these conditions (Choi, Price, & Vinokur, 2003; Caplan, Vinokur, & Price, 1997; Price & Vinokur, 1995) and the research findings showed that enhancement in job search self-efficacy stimulated participants to engage in intensive job search activities (van Ryn & Vinokur, 1992; Vinokur & Schul, 1997).

Finally, research and theory on social resources also drives the intervention. "Skills, social support, and knowing how to cope with setbacks are all critical social resources that can have powerful preventive impacts for people who would otherwise be very vulnerable to the adversity of life transitions like job loss," says Richard Price, Director of the Michigan Prevention Research Center. The cascade of adversities following job loss and their impact on mental health has been recently described in a paper written by Price and his colleagues published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (Price, Choi, & Vinokur, 2002).

Impact of the JOBS Program

What impact has the JOBS intervention had? The Michigan Prevention Research Center's research indicates the JOBS intervention has yielded both preventive impacts on mental health and favorable cost-benefit results. Furthermore, people disadvantaged in the job market because they had less formal education or were women and those at highest psychological risk were helped most by the JOBS program.

The Michigan Prevention Research Center has implemented the JOBS program in numerous sites including social service agencies in Michigan and Baltimore, Maryland; community service agencies in California, as well as implementation in China with a group of Chinese workers and in Finland. Toward this end, the Center has completed a comprehensive implementation manual (Curran, Wishart & Gingrich, 1999) for dissemination of the JOBS program. For more information about the JOBS intervention and the Michigan Prevention Research Center, including a training manual for replicating the JOBS intervention and copies of research reports call or write to:

Richard H. Price or Amiram Vinokur:
Michigan Prevention Research Center
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248
Tel: (734) 763-0446 or (734) 647-0858
Fax: (734) 936-0548

[Go back to the MPRC homepage] Last Updated: 08/2003