This PhD research project focused on how street-level caseworkers and benefit claimants in pubic employment services deal with the tensions which are inherent in activation policies when it comes to the rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants. On the one hand, caseworkers are charged with offering claimants an activation trajectory to improve their employability and support them in their job search process. On the other, caseworkers are charged with monitoring claimants’ participation in the activation trajectory and with enforcing claimants’ job search efforts so as to ensure that their dependency ends as quickly as possible. According to the social-psychological self-determination theory these strategies trigger fundamentally different motivations among benefit claimants to partake in the activation trajectory. That is to say, whereas the former strategy triggers intrinsic motivations as long as caseworkers empower benefit claimants by (1) offering them choice, (2) accounting for their perspective and (3) tailoring the trajectory to their capacities, the latter capitalizes on claimants’ extrinsic motivations as it implies the exertion of pressure or even threats. I have developed a survey instrument to empirically investigate to what extent caseworkers combine these ‘supportive’ and ‘frustrating’ activation approaches in their daily interactions with benefit claimants. Next, I have conducted an in-depth qualitative study among benefit claimants to find out how different approaches affect their participation in the activation trajectory quantitatively (degree of showing up) as well as qualitatively (degree of collaboration). Hence this study aims to contribute to the fundamental sociological debate whether human agents (in casu benefit claimants) are ready to participate at any price (i.e. give up their need for choice, recognition and competence) so as to safeguard their financial interest i.e. the benefit (rational choice). Or whether the need for choice, recognition and competence are ultimate human concerns which cannot be traded off and thus are minimum conditions for participation (realist social theory of Margaret Archer).