Millions of people don’t work even though they could – and are making themselves comfortable on citizen’s allowance. Too many people don’t understand the reasons, says psychologist Florian Becker. He explains how you could move people out of their comfort zone. A guest post.

The Federal Employment Agency (BAA) and others report frightening figures:

The distribution of war refugees from Ukraine to different countries is an interesting quasi-experiment. In Germany you immediately receive citizen’s money. Depending on the study, around 80 percent of them don’t work in Germany – but in other countries only less than 30 percent don’t work (e.g. Denmark). This does not shed a good light on work incentives in Germany. Other systems motivate people to work more than three times as effectively. This raises the question of whether more than 50 percent of employable citizens’ benefit recipients would work – given appropriate incentives. I think it’s time to speak openly about this worrying data base.

Florian Becker’s new book “Positive Psychology – Paths to Success, Resilience and Happiness” will be published in June – you can pre-order it here.

Professor Dr. Florian Becker is a qualified psychologist and author of the book “Positive Psychology – Paths to Success, Resilience and Happiness”. He researched and taught for a long time at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, is on the board of the Economic Psychological Society and holds a professorship at the Technical University of Rosenheim. In consulting projects and lectures, he shows how psychology makes people more effective and happier, how people unleash motivation and build resilience.

First of all: It is not about questioning the welfare state itself or stopping the provision of money to people who, for plausible reasons, cannot actually make a sufficient contribution to their own living expenses. I want to stimulate fresh thinking in three directions:

This debate is urgently needed because: the state treasury is empty, according to the IAB there are around two million job vacancies (often for low-skilled workers) and a majority of Germans say in surveys that, in their opinion, “work is no longer worth it.” . It’s not just about immense direct costs. The social contribution of hundreds of thousands of healthy, working adults in the form of work, social security contributions and taxes is missing. I also raise the question of ethics and human dignity in the current system.

In its monthly report, the BAA cites the main reasons why work is “unreasonable” for hundreds of thousands of employable citizen benefit recipients: raising children, caring for relatives, running a household or going to school and studying. Question marks arise here for me: How many people run a household, have children (even small ones), study or organize care for someone (even with higher care levels) – and still work? For many, the reasons given must therefore sound like satire. I also get stuck on the term “unreasonable”. It sounds like work is an imposition. Is that a helpful perspective?

Years ago, a student impressed me: She worked in restaurants, hardware stores, and night shifts in production to finance her studies. Then she received the prize for the best preliminary diploma. Eventually she even received a scholarship because of her performance and was able to focus even more on her studies. That’s the right attitude!

There are students who are integrated into their training and are doing training at the same time. And many work as working students, in the catering industry or give tutoring. Incidentally, studies show that working up to 20 hours does not significantly increase the number of people dropping out of courses. I have observed that working during your studies is often very helpful for your career and personal development. Working students often get to know their future employers. At that time, as a student assistant, I was offered the opportunity to do my doctoral thesis at the chair. Anyone who gives tutoring learns leadership skills, explaining and motivating people. Working as a bartender promotes your social skills. They all develop faster than those who do not work.

Conclusion: Work is not a bad thing. Up to 20 hours of work alongside your studies is even desirable! Working alongside your studies is by no means “unreasonable”. She is good and should even be normal. Often those who work at the same time even do better at their studies.

I worked for a long time with two colleagues, both single parents, each with two children. They tended to be more organized and efficient than people without children. A single father told me: “It is precisely because I have children that I work hard. Because I want to be a good role model.” Such people should be the guide. The attitude “I have decided to have a child. But I don’t want/can’t organize his care. Now society has to pay for my living expenses!” does not seem to me to be a sufficiently plausible reason that “work is unreasonable”.

Conclusion: Instead of being unreasonable, in many cases work is often beneficial. Some of the things that, according to the BAA, make “work unreasonable” seem to me to be personal decisions that should then also be financed personally.

Whoever pays, creates. A welfare state must be accurate in order to be accepted. Help must arrive where it is really useful and needed. And only there. In this respect, it is necessary to look much more closely than before.

Specifically, this means: Anyone who claims that work is “unreasonable” because they are studying must first provide conclusive evidence as to why others are working and studying in the same course of study. Anyone who says that as a healthy person they cannot work because they have small children should prove why the single neighbor with small children can work – but exactly not him.

The starting point should be the question: Why do many others make it – but not you? What have you verifiably done? Why so late, why not anymore? In my opinion, detailed and standardized proof is required. If you don’t provide convincing evidence here, you won’t get any money, but rather a to-do list.

By the way, this is also a question of respect. We treat people as individuals who make their own decisions and take responsibility for their lives. We treat them as adult citizens – instead of as incapable individuals who fail in normal everyday life.

Around 1.7 million recipients of citizens’ benefit are fully capable of working – but not employed! And without any known plausible reason. Over 40 percent are hardened cases that remain in the system for years. Apparently hundreds of thousands of people can no longer get out of this citizen’s money trap or don’t want to get out of it. According to media reports, 110,000 employees of the Federal Employment Agency and job centers were no longer even able to place 104,000 unemployed and social welfare recipients in 2022. Mathematically speaking, an employee can no longer even place one person. In the year!

If these aren’t warning signs that we as humans have given up on passivity, then what is?

In my view, this dramatic development is a reason to completely question previous thinking and concepts. The debate so far has primarily revolved around the question: How much material wealth does someone need to live a decent life?

There is one aspect that I miss in the whole discussion: human potential and its realization.

It has long been known in psychology that the comfort zone can also become a trap. People need the growth zone. This is where we should be to develop. It is a perspective that has so far received little attention.

In citizens’ money, performance potential decreases and knowledge becomes outdated. Skills, contacts and habits that are essential for making a living and living a self-determined life are disappearing. If healthy, young people often remain passively on citizens’ money for years, then it is a catastrophe for their development. You stay in the comfort zone and stop growing. They lose the ability to live independently. With every day, every month, every year, their options become smaller. They become weaker, lonelier and sicker.

You can also see in everyday life that the comfort zone harms people. Helicopter parents are just one example. I observed how a mother drove to her 40-year-old son every week with baskets of fresh laundry, cleaned his apartment and drove home with the old laundry. Often these men don’t have a wife and don’t start a family. The horrible contract they make with this “mother”: “Mom will do everything for you. But you must never leave mom.” They remain children for the rest of their lives. Some stay at home with mom.

I ask critically: Is it possible that we are perfidiously using citizens’ money to pay millions of people not to develop? What about our ethics when we lure hundreds of thousands of young, healthy people into a comfort zone – in which they wither away?

A comfort zone in which they do not develop and lead a life of dependency. It therefore seems appropriate to me to consider human dignity more broadly than just materially. Aren’t freedom, independence and the ability to act at least as important a part of a successful life?

Leaving your comfort zone is something we all find difficult at times. And yet: When we look back at what we are proud of in our lives. A lot of this was achieved outside of our comfort zone. When we step out of our comfort zone, we win. We gain health, wealth and career, social contacts, happiness. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to leave their comfortable zone. In doing so, they harm themselves first and foremost.

A development into a nanny welfare state that declares people to be victims in a completely undifferentiated manner and keeps them dependent in a comfort zone is unethical.

Such a social system ultimately behaves like the mother who doesn’t let her 40-year-old son grow up and cleans his apartment and does the laundry every week. A change of perspective in the welfare state is therefore crucial. Instead of always looking for new victims to care for and make dependent (like the mother described above), the focus should be on making people capable of acting. Instead of viewing work as something bad, we should see it as an opportunity.

The social system has to be accurate. This also requires a fresh look at the question: What is reasonable? I think it is unreasonable to let young, healthy people wither away in their comfort zone for years. For the future, we need people who are fully capable of acting – who can and, above all, want to actively shape their lives.

All of this is not hardship, but responsibility. This renewal also requires a rethinking of those of working age who have so far been passively part of the social system. Many have been told the victim narrative: “Society is to blame. You can’t change anything. Others are responsible for your success.” This politically popular victim narrative must be countered with positive morals. A designer mindset is required to motivate, build self-efficacy: “You are not a passive victim – you are the designer of your life. Your decisions, your effort, your behavior make the difference. Your happiness is in your hands.”

Admittedly, such a change in perspective, from passive endurance to actively shaping one’s own life, is not easy for many people.

After all, it is much more comfortable to look for responsibility for your own problems on other people, to see yourself as a passive victim. But this new message gives people back their power, their freedom, their faith and their pride. Qualities that we rightly associate with the term “citizen”. Florian Becker’s new book “Positive Psychology – Paths to Success, Resilience and Happiness” will be published in June – you can pre-order it here.

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