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Work-life balance in the Armed Forces

The MoD commissioned a piece of research to explore current understandings of work-life balance (WLB) and attitudes towards the implementation of flexible working in the Armed Forces, partly as a result of recruitment and retention concerns. 116 male and female Service personnel took part in 14 focus groups around the UK (four Royal Navy, four Army, four Royal Air Force and two with Royal Marines). Focus groups were divided by gender and by rank. The qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Men and women had somewhat different expectations and understandings of WLB. In general, Service personnel felt that they did not always have a good WLB and some had put their notice in to leave the Armed Forces. Many women in this position felt that they could not manage the demands of the Services and the demands of a family and were willing to forego their careers, rather than remain. Flexible working options such as part-time working, common among female civilian workers, were deemed to be unsustainable in the Armed Forces. There was a high level of commitment and loyalty to the Services, most especially among the higher ranks.

The main reasons for a lack of WLB were the military lifestyle (regular postings, relocations and deployments), current manning levels and a lack of resources. Barriers to obtaining a good WLB were not only the military lifestyle but also the organisational culture that exists. The inability to plan and difficulties in getting children into good schools, and barriers to spouses’ careers as a result of the military lifestyle, were all key frustrations. Many participants reported having to rely on others to manage work and non-work responsibilities.

Results showed that some flexibility in the work environment does exist (such as starting late on a Monday, finishing early on a Friday), but this was mainly on an informal rather than formal basis and it was very much dependent on occupational role, service and a supportive boss. Most participants were unaware of any formal flexible working provision, such as the New Employment Model that was being implemented in 2015.

The vast majority of personnel agreed that they would like the Armed Forces to be a little more flexible, as and when needed. On the other hand, there were concerns raised by many (often those in more senior roles) about how more formalised flexible working would be managed.

Recommendations were made on how to encourage and implement a greater degree of flexibility into the Armed Forces.


Fisher, N., Lyonette, C., Barnes, S-A. and Newell, K. (2015) TIN 2.050 Current understanding and attitudes to work-life balance in the UK Armed Forces. Farnborough: Defence Human Capability Sciences & technology Centre (DHCSTC).

Project Team:

Clare Lyonette: Principal Investigator
Sally-Anne Barnes



Project Duration:

August 2014 - June 2015

Project Funder:

Ministry of Defence