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Data & Behavioural Insights

The whole world is a (psychological) stage

Investigation into the stages of human behaviour change began in 1977 with a study into smoking. What this original ‘transtheoretical model of behaviour change’ study found was that it was possible to identify and define a series of stages people went through to change their smoking behaviour.


If interventions were timed to match those stages, double the number of smokers were able to quit.


The psychological science has come a long way since then. Combined with the power of predictive analytics, the same model of behaviour change has been applied across different domains, not least the challenging journey that jobseekers face in becoming ready to enter and maintain employment.


The stages of behaviour change


What are the stages of behaviour change? More importantly for employment services providers managing enhanced services caseloads under the coming New Employment Services Model, what are individuals in each stage of behaviour change likely to think or do? Here’s a brief summary.




In pre-contemplation there is no intention to change behaviour. These are jobseekers who may exhibit no or little desire to actually attain a job or show no belief they can find and sustain work.


If they do present for interventions it is often only because of pressure from others. 




Contemplation jobseekers are aware a problem exists - they know they should find employment. However, while they are seriously thinking about it, they have not yet committed to action.


Frontline employment consultants have described this category of jobseekers as ‘gonnas’. They do plan to do something about their situation, but ‘maybe in six months’.


Unauthentic action


Unauthentic actors are jobseekers who take all the right actions towards getting a job but have no underlying intention or confidence in achieving or sustaining a job. A new behavioural segment discovered by Esher House, they account for approximately 21% of caseloads in jobactive.


They can drop out of interviews or work quickly, damaging employer relations and cash flow.




Preparation jobseekers intend to take action soon – perhaps in the next month – and may have actually unsuccessfully tried to make changes in the last year. At this stage of change they may have made some small reductions in their problem behavior and wish to take action.




Action individuals are committed to change and have successfully altered their behavior for between one day and six months. These jobseekers taking action are undertaking job searches, applying for positions in employment or full-time education, and will attend interviews.


These jobseekers are highly likely to not require the enhanced services of a provider under NESM.




Maintainers are engaged in preventing a relapse into unemployment, for short periods or a lifetime. 


This might include behaviours like visiting a counsellor to seek help in preventing any backward steps, or not dropping out at the slightest hiccup or barrier they face while in the workplace.


Matching interventions with stages of behaviour change


Interventions are most effective when they match an individual’s stage of behaviour change.


In the case of smokers, the idea of undertaking hypnotherapy or using nicotine patches would simply be dismissed by the smoker in a pre-contemplation stage of change. However, if they were enthusiastic about quitting but were just being put off by the associated costs of therapy, they would be at a useful tipping point - their mindset was ready to receive an intervention.


This translates directly to the employment services market. In just one example, resume support activities were very unlikely to help a jobseeker participant in jobactive who was in a stage of pre-contemplation, because they had no intention of using that resume to find work. Providers will need tools to help them continually assess and deliver stage-matched intervention under NESM.