Army Lessons hosted a survey for Reserve members late in 2021. A series of questions invited respondents to share their experiences in the workplace. 100 members took the time to do so, and provided a great deal of useful information.
Due to limited space, the less common tips from the lists you will come across and many quotes were removed. Send an email to email@example.com if you would like the full article to be sent to you.
The body of this article discusses Reserve soldiers and their engagement with Regulars. It then provides the most popular results of some survey questions that culminate with opinions on how to get the best out of Reservists. While this survey provides guidance and tips with a primary focus on Reservists, it covers fundamental relationship considerations that are relevant for everyone in optimising workplace interactions.
Of note, most respondents call themselves Army Reservists and so this article has used this term. The break out box below explains what terms they use to describe themselves.
What do Reservists call themselves?
‘Army Reserve’ was the most popular response, with half the respondents. That was followed by ARes with 20 per cent, and then ‘choco’ with 15 per cent. Interestingly, SERCAT 3 or 5 only got 1 per cent of the vote.
‘Choco’ can be a divisive term. Personally, as a Reserve soldier myself, I find the history of the term captivating. Reserve soldiers in WWII were placed in the path of the highly trained and jungle-experienced Japanese soldiers, and it was predicted by some that they would melt in the heat – hence ‘chocolate’ soldiers. These personnel fought and many died for their country. I take pride in this association, in being called a choco.
Unique capabilities and qualities of Reserve soldiers
A significant 84 percent of respondents said that they think Reservists have unique capabilities and qualities compared to Regular soldiers.
Civilian qualifications and civilian employment provide knowledge and experiences that may not correlate to the training and trades in Army. This provides an opportunity to expand the uniformed knowledge base, when combined with members who have been in uniform for a number of years. While civilian qualifications may need to be recognised by Defence for them to be applied, the knowledge of the holder can still provide advice if it’s applicable.
Reservists spend most of their time as a civilian which means, by extension, that they are able to easily relate to the mindset and needs of them. This is clearly an asset when needing to engage them in tasks such as disaster relief. This is not to say Regular soldiers can’t, but a Reservist may also have significant local contacts too, if engaged to work in their local area.
The experience and knowledge junior Reserve members bring may be different than what you would likely encounter with Regular soldiers. Junior ranks can be older and therefore have more life experience. They may also be subject matter experts in their civilian employment and have significant knowledge.
The suggestions provided below may not be useful to Army in all scenarios, and that would likely vary for each Reservist, depending on their experiences. The full article provides the unique capability and qualities of Reserve soldiers in a list.
“If… work is itemised appropriately, forecasted and disseminated well (maybe even broken down into projects) you are going to find that many of the part-timers are not only more efficient but actually already have the skills required and in some circumstances have much more developed skill-sets. This actually might be an idea. Develop a project-based work structure for part-timers. Provide the tools and software to manage and work with other part-timers and full-timers.”
“I would strongly recommend having an easier way to recognise civilian qualifications…”
“… promote unity and good culture in units.”
Communication with Regular soldiers
Most respondents said that communication between Reserve and Regular soldiers is already good, “as long as you know your audience and use correct language and tone, there are no problems”. Many found their counterparts to be supportive and engaging on shared activities.
A second key message was to be respectful. If you're respectful, you show consideration and regard for someone, which is something we should all be doing with our fellow soldiers regardless of rank, trade, service, etc. In line with this point, it is important to not pre-judge someone based on their age, rank, etc.
To be able to communicate with someone, ideally, you should know them. For Regular soldiers, this means appreciating the different commitments the Reservists have (civilian work, volunteering, etc), which can impact their ability to parade at times; some may do unpaid work.
“I find talking through your commitments and setting expectations is a really valuable exercise.”
For Reservists, be yourself – and listen and learn from your Regular counterparts. For Regular members – be open to the fact that a Reserve soldier may have experiences and knowledge that complement their military service. Just because a member does something part-time doesn't mean they are not as passionate and good at doing the job as their full-time colleagues.
One of the more common responses was the challenge some Reservists have in knowing acronyms. This happens primarily with Reserve members who are not as experienced with Army practices.
Having a Reservist who is ex-ARA can make a big difference. If that’s you, step in and help bridge any gaps.
“Both parties need to be humble and understand that both SERCAT 7 and SERCAT 5 have different levels of experience and different things to bring to the table.”
To improve communication between Reserve and Regular soldiers you simply need to gain exposure to working with each other and sharing experiences. It’s not complicated – gain experiences on courses, exercises, deployments, or postings to mixed units.
A challenge with communication is the inability of the Reserve soldier to access and respond to messages in a timely manner. Reserve soldiers have other commitments that may delay their ability to engage. This delay may also cause a misunderstanding between the parties as messages can lose intent over time. Further, an important email to a Reserve member should be followed up with a text or call. It’s possible they will not see it until it’s too late.
“ARA soldiers that have never worked with ARes before will generally have a low opinion. Once they have operated together they usually see ARes are more competent than they have been led to believe, and communication becomes easier. Exposure to working with each other and the relative limitations of each group will ease communication.”
Differences between Reservists and Regular soldiers
68 percent of respondents said there are differences between Reserve and Regular soldiers.
The simplest and most obvious difference is that of availability. Regular soldiers are available whenever they’re needed. Reserve soldiers may not be, given that for most members it is not their primary employment and main source of income. Understanding this, and allowing enough notice for task deadlines, and remaining flexible, is the best approach.
There may be an experience gap, and it is best to assume there is. Respect this as you would respect rank. For a Reservist, you may have a leadership role outside the green, but it may be necessary for you to be a mentee in the green if you don’t have the experience in that environment.
There may be a knowledge gap too, as experience can result in knowledge. Some suggested that this gap could become wider at times due to significant operational experiences, and the exposure to the training to prepare for it. The best ways to close this gap is to provide resources and opportunities to gain experiences, and for this to be facilitated by experienced, knowledgeable and proactive Regular soldiers. That said, many Reservists also have high-level qualifications.
Regular soldiers are able to bond with their fellow members as they attend work together every day, typically in the same sections. Reservists have different people attend training at times so sections and section members change as well as roles.
Understandably, Regular soldiers nearly always apply an exclusively Army lens when approaching problems. This is effective but can sometimes mean focusing on processes/doctrine rather than the desired outcome. Consider affording Reservists more opportunities to provide valuable input or offer different ways of thinking by working together. One of their strengths is their ability to integrate with, and perhaps better understand, civilians.
“Finding the balance between enforcing high standards, while keeping soldiers interested and committed [leads] to the success of a Reserve unit.”
Reserve soldiers volunteer to fill this role, and it’s easier to leave this role too. They can be quite enthusiastic when given the opportunity to parade. It’s generally an intermittent experience, which should help to make it more enjoyable. Another element of this part-time culture is that they can have different reactions to poor management styles, which may result in retention problems.
“If you happen to get a keen Reg, they are amazing to work with as their knowledge is far deeper than an Army Reserve soldier.”
Do not make assumptions on what someone can or can’t do. Be open minded with regards to what different people bring to the table.
“Generally, Regular pers appear to be more chasing the day to day work, keeping their head above water so to speak. This can cause issues with planning and forecasting, meaning that the notion of a Reservist not being present for longer periods is perceived as ‘they will not be able to provide capability’ ... However,… if work is appropriately… provided to Reservists on the basis of hours instead of… presence, the output would be greatly improved. This would also allow part-time soldiers to pre-plan – meaning they could take up extra work based on assessed hours.”
What is enjoyable about being a Reservist?
The top responses to this question are not surprising, and perhaps what you would expect to find in a survey of Regular soldiers. The top three are mateship, unique experiences, and personal development. The following quotes sum up the thoughts of many:
“I enjoy the mateship built around shared experiences and common values.”
“I enjoy Reserves as it keeps me challenged and offers new experiences outside of my civilian employment.”
The full article provides this information in a list.
Tips for fellow Reserve soldiers
The top responses, in order of most popular, are as follows:
- Volunteer for as many tasks as you can, including the big exercises. Do something different to your everyday life.
- Keep an open mind and remain flexible, as there will be bad times with the good. Remember too that there is a ‘big picture’ that you rarely get to see.
- Parade regularly and contribute the maximum amount of time you can. This will build the skills and knowledge that you need.
- Do all of the training not just what you want to do, and then maintain that knowledge. It’s hard to learn but easy to forget.
- Don’t take shortcuts, and contribute each time you parade. You’ll get out of it what you put in – train as you would fight.
- Enjoy it. Don’t be influenced by someone else if they’re negative.
- Do your promotions and specialists courses, ideally as early as you can. Seek development and promotion.
- You get out what you put in, don't sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to give you an opportunity.
- Accept you are part-time and that you have a family and full-time job; that has to be your first priority. If you have a conflict issue, discuss it with your Army boss.
- Keep open communication lines with your CoC, such as your intent and capacity to support Army.
How to get the best out of Reservists
The top responses, in order of most popular, are as follows:
- Provide realistic and challenging training, which is relevant, focused on their Army trades and has an end-state. Vary the training from time to time.
- Demonstrate respect, empathy and encouragement at all levels.
- Recognise and appreciate that most Reservists have jobs/careers outside of ADF. Consider that some Reservists may not be able to parade due to other life demands.
- ARA soldiers posted to Reserve units should get out and get to know the Reserve soldiers. Understand the challenges in their life.
- Have a goal to work towards. Tell soldiers what training is planned and try not to change it at short notice. This will motivate soldiers.
- Reserve soldiers have different life experiences and qualifications, which may be utilised within the ADF.
- Give Reserve soldiers as much lead time for activities and courses as is reasonably possible, so they can plan out their lives and request leave from their employer if required.
- Sometimes have ‘fun’ or just different activities to maintain enthusiasm and motivation.
Building relationships with an ARA soldier
The top responses, in order of most popular, are as follows:
- Make an effort to engage and ask questions of an ARA soldier at an early opportunity. Be open about what you know and ask questions of ARA members if you don't know. Share knowledge with them if you have experience on a matter. Find common interests.
- Remain positive and professional at all times, and be humble. Some perceive that relationships between ARA and Reservists can be strained, or that Reservists are outsiders. They shouldn’t be. We should all be inclusive.
- Reservists should volunteer for every task that provides opportunities to work with the ARA, such as when they need support for an exercise. Work hard to maximise the training benefit, without complaint. Also, try to maintain that relationship with the ARA unit.
- Show commitment. Attend training activities when you can, and not just the ones you think are fun. Turn up when you say you are going to turn up, and do your best.
- Enable opportunities in barracks and on courses so that Reservists can engage with ARA soldiers, in either the ARA or Reserve units. This could also include sports.
- Explain your civilian as well as your military background. Your skills and knowledge may come in handy.
- Realise that we are all part of the same team. There should be no barriers.
- Have clear and regular communication in all directions.
“Understand there is usually a large amount of preparatory work for almost every training night/weekend/course. Acknowledge it when you can and put in a good turnout and effort to justify it. If training days and your time are both available – offer to come in and help or assist for even a half day a month to keep up with the ceaseless maintenance and administration of a unit – it is your unit after all…”
This article contains a wide range of tips and general guidance to better understand how to interact with and manage Reservists. Really though, the bottom line is that Reservists are members of the Army and not as different to the Regular soldiers as some perceive. Sure, they don’t have the experience of a Regular soldier, but they have the dedication to volunteer for service in Army. As a respondent to this survey said, “find common interests, be respectful, and work hard”.
This article also contains tips for fellow Reservists on how they can make the most of their Army career. Volunteer for as many activities as you can, engage with and learn from Regular soldiers, and remain flexible.