„Please drop your dignity off here“


While I was writing this article, I found an interview with Gerald Hüther (German neurobiologist and author, more info here) about his new audiobook “Dignity, what makes us strong” and it couldn’t fit better to this topic!

According to Hüther we experience dignity when we feel ourselves perceived as a subject and we can unfold potentials.

He also describes that we lose dignity when


„No human can unfold his potential when he is treated or used as an object. We live in a world, where we constantly experience that ourselves or others are turned into objects of intentions and interests, expectations and judgement, actions and instructions, at home, at school, during apprenticeship, at work and in daily cohabitation.”


Turned into objects and not a subject anymore. I ask myself if I have ever felt as a subject in the education and school system in Germany. No.

I got an idea of „dignity“ in our youth center and  during my studies in university.

It is even more difficult to voluntarily give up this unique treasure. For example when you enter the Employment Agency and register as a jobseeker… (Note: In Germany you HAVE TO register with them otherwise you will HAVE TO pay health insurance by yourself which is around 400€ per month)

It’s not the first time that I shake my head about the incomprehensible procedure of an institution which is supposed to support job search. Hardly anyone was surprised when I told friends about my experience. Almost everyone knew or was in the same situation like me right now.

Well, maybe you will find yourself in this story? 😉


 „You are not allowed to leave town“

In 2013 I was also unemployed and on job search. That was between my Canadian Working Holiday Visa and Young Professional Visa and I had to go back to Germany for two and a half months. In the beginning I didn’t know that I would get another chance in Canada.

So I applied for jobs in A. I had three job interviews in one week and I decided to go to my sister’s place in B, which is approx. an hour from A. It would have saved time and costs.

I exactly remember how my job agent sat in front of me and said: “You can’t just go to your sister for a week. You know, ACTUALLY, you would have to drive to XY in the morning to your job interview and back to your home town in the evening. We don’t pay for those costs.”

Getting there in the morning, getting back in the evening. That would have meant for one way: From A to B 1 hour 30 minutes vs. from my Hometown to B 7 hours 30 minutes. I should sit 15 hours in a train on one day for a job interview, three times in one week??


“But I understand that it makes sense, I approve your absence.”

Approve my absence? How nice of him. What shall I say?


A few weeks ago same thing again: I am not allowed to leave town longer than 24 hours.

Somehow I feel like a super criminal under house arrest…

But it’s not only the limited freedom of movement that makes me angry. It’s the contra productive procedures of the system and the job agent who accurately follows the rules.


Employment Service – reality check

Before I write about my appointment, read here the description of the function and duty of a job agent:

Job agents have the duty to help with job placement, consultation and integration of jobseekers (source in German:  Berufenet)


My appointment with my job seeker

  • who didn’t ask in what field I would like to work
  • who didn’t allow me to leave town longer than 24 hours -> that means I can also not go to another city and check it out if I like it to extend my radius of my job search
  • who rejected to support my job search in the cities where I would like to live -> “that’s not in this region, but here is a huge lack of ECE educators”
  • who told me that I’m not allowed to reject job proposals in my hometown that he will send me although I don’t want to live and work there
  • who didn’t even have a look at my job application (maybe there is something to improve?) neither had he a look on the list of applications I already had written -> and I was explicitly told to bring them


When I asked about self-employment/working as a freelancer and a financial funding from the Employment Agency (you can officially apply for a funding when you are a jobseeker and you want to work self-employed/as a freelancer), he declined right away without even listening to what I had in mind.

“As a pedagogue, you can basically work in any field, that’s why you won’t get the funding.”


Then, a couple of weeks after my appointment, I got a job proposal from a different job agent (same company)…the job? In my home town? The institution? Catholic. It is also written in my profile that I am undenominational (since 2012 because I left church). (Note: Catholic institutions in Germany only hire catholics or protestants)

That’s how job placement, consultation an integration looks like? Aha.


At least I am not alone with it…

You want more examples of this insanity? Here you go:

A friend of mine had to go to a job interview when she was heavily pregnant.

The mother of a friend of mine, bank clerk, had to apply for a job as crane operator.

A friend of mine wanted to visit with his wife her family for a couple of days in another town…for a few days before his new job would start. This vacation was planned long before he got unemployed. He wasn’t allowed to leave. There could be appointments in those few days before his new job.


When I worked in social and family services and accompanied clients to the Employment Agency, I was shocked about the way they were treated there. Like humans from a lower caste.

When I worked with students in the field of job orientation, transition and integration into the job market, I wondered how little their interests and career aspiration were acknowledged.


Today, I’m not surprised anymore about unemployed teenagers or apprentices who quit their apprenticeship.

I’m not surprised anymore about people who get social welfare and don’t go to their appointments at the Employment Agency anymore.

And I’m especially not surprised anymore about jobseekers who can’t find a job. At least not the work that they are qualified for and interested in.


To feel like a responsible adult with dignity – is that too much?

I registered four weeks too late because I wanted to feel a little bit longer like a responsible adult with dignity. I happily renounced the unemployment money during that time and happily paid that price for my dignity.


Then I went to the Employment Agency: Entered as a subject, left as an object.

The object (the jobseeker) who gets pressed into a box (job agent decided about job placement) and is supposed to be integrated in the job market (no matter what), so that the unemployment quote sinks (that actually makes sense).


Unfold potentials? Wrong!


A few days ago I read an article in a German online newspaper. It was about that job agents from the Employment Agency placed job seekers into courses with no goal-orientation. The reason?

Job agents have a better chance to get a permanent position or a promotion (source in German: Spiegel)


Yes, there are staff-exceptions and yes, I agree that there are people for who those rules really make sense. Rules are rules and they won’t change easily.

That’s a problem of the system.


But you can change something in the work with job seekers.

Listen and acknowledge what kind of job they want and search for.

More appreciation and respect for the person who is searching for work.

And especially acknowledge that a responsible adult with dignity sits in front of you.



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