Work-life balance in the armed forces – A Nordic comparison
In recent years, interest in the different ways in which military employment affects individuals’ work-life balance has grown. Military personnel face unique challenges in balancing their military commitments and home-related responsibilities, and sometimes have to act in demanding and stressful situations with little or no advance notice. Finding an appropriate balance between work and non-work is particularly complex during military training and deployments that require lengthy periods away from home. Throughout their career, military personnel are likely to face repeated separation from home, family, and friends while participating in training and deployments. Furthermore, military personnel’s perceptions of work-life balance are likely to influence their job satisfaction and future career intentions (Sachau et al., 2012). Research shows that after serving abroad, personnel report lower satisfaction with their personal relationships and an increased desire to leave the armed forces (Andres et al., 2012). However, the offer of organizational support, and thus being better equipped to handle the conflicting demands from work and non-work life, has a positive impact on work-life balance (Anderson & Goldenberg, 2019; Sachau et al., 2018). The aim of this study was to investigate how work-life balance and different work-related demands and resources affect well-being, job satisfaction, commitment to the organization, and willingness to remain in the organization among military personnel in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The data collection took place between 25 April and 30 May 2022. The officer unions in each country distributed a survey link to their members by email. Participation was voluntary, and survey instructions indicated that the data would be handled confidentially. The response numbers were 474 Danish officers, 983 Norwegian officers, 849 Finnish officers (11 of whom spoke Finnish-Swedish) and 1002 Swedish officers.
The most significant results from this study are of course the strong relationships between the working conditions within the Armed Forces and the employees’ job satisfaction and intentions to leave work. The better the support and understanding from the employer, the more appreciated the rewards and benefits, the better the job requirements are adapted to the individual’s interests and skills – the more this tends to give increased job satisfaction and reduced intentions to leave the current job. These relationships have also previously been confirmed among employees within the Swedish Armed Forces, where Österberg and Rydstedt (2018) found strong relationships between, on the one hand, stimulating work content – and, on the other hand, work motivation and satisfaction as well as reduced intentions to leave the current job. Somewhat more remarkable is the almost non-existent impact of the conflicts between work and family life on well-being at work – after the influence of working conditions is first introduced into the analysis. A tentative interpretation of this is that the actual working conditions are obviously of great importance for the emergence of conflicts between work and family life, and that if the working conditions are well adapted to the individual’s needs and wishes, this also reduces the conflicts between work and private life.
The results of this survey suggest that the armed forces in the Nordic countries currently face considerable challenges, and probably even greater challenges in the years ahead. It is important to review employees’ pay and benefits. These not only include salary, but also pensions, and allowances for individuals deployed on operations, abroad and nationally. Salary is not the only financial incentive that needs to be addressed. There must be a focus, not only on recruiting personnel, but also on efforts to retain personnel in the organization. Otherwise, there is a risk of losing competence when large age groups approach retirement age.
Johan Österberg, PhD, Swedish Defence University
Emma Oskarsson, MA, Swedish Defence University