Paid volunteers - investigating retention of Army Reservists

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The Australian Government is using many of its Department of Defence capabilities in operations abroad and at home. To achieve this, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has increasingly relied on the capability of the Reserve Forces; in particular the Army Reserve (ARes). While demand for Reservists has increased, the overall force numbers have been decreasing. This creates problems not only in Defence capability but also in the quality of training, morale and attendance. Defence has conducted many surveys of serving Reservists to understand their motivations from a qualitative standpoint. It is the aim of this descriptive empirical phenomenological research, through the lived experience of the participants, to complement that work by understanding the experiences and perspectives of those experiencing military service in two part-time army organisations (Australia and the United Kingdom’s Territorial Army (TA)) in order to better inform Human Resource (HR) policy and practice within the Australian Army Reserve. A descriptive empirical phenomenological study was undertaken to understand the lived experiences of Reservists and Territorial Army members. Nine participants reflected on their motivations to join, their experiences of recruitment, training, and promotion, and some of their most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspects of Reserve service. A human resources (HR) lens was used to focus the literature and research data approaches. The data was analysed using a descriptive empirical phenomenological method. As a result, both the participant and researcher voice is presented. This is then referenced against the data, models and theories presented in the literature to identify consistencies and points of difference between past research and this approach. This study suggests that the psyche of Reservist motivation is unique by being a combination of both volunteer and part-time employee motivation. The conclusions drawn identify that most of the participant Reservists experienced service through both a volunteer perspective (value for time) and through an employee perspective (value for money); this in turn influences Reservists’ retention. HR practice in the Army focuses on the employee motivation of Reservists. As a result, developing HR policies and practices that considers the volunteer motivations of Reservists as well may enhance retention. The richness of the phenomenological results points to a worthwhile methodological strategy for future Reserve service research.
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