This short piece is written to discuss the role that status plays in recruiting and retaining people within the military. It argues that the social status is given to those who serve, and the organisational status that is gained through the attainment of military rank, is a key driver in recruiting Defence members. Further, it will argue that the fear of losing status within a workplace and wider community is a key retainer of military members due to the prestige that is associated with this status.
There are many things that motivate an individual to apply to serve within the military. The desire to serve the nation, be a part of something bigger, and help others are all key drivers. So too are the benefits that come with service such as the great salary that can be earned straight out of school. Job security, camaraderie and mateship can also provide comfort and stability for many as they leave their parents’ home and venture out into the big wide world. Another motivator for recruitment is the status that comes with being a military member. This status stays with a serving member for life, yet some status is lost when they become ex-serving members.
Status is something that exists within society, with wealth being perhaps the most visible display of social status. The social status that comes with driving expensive cars, wearing expensive clothes, living in expensive houses, and living a lavish lifestyle can oftentimes be a misleading representation of true social power, influence or success.
Social status is gained primarily through occupying positions of influence within the community, often in relation to community groups, councils, or political parties. People who work within emergency service roles are also given elevated status due to their role serving the community.
Organisational status is given to those working within positions of power. For instance, in any organisation status exists for those within leadership and management roles. Some organisations may give a higher level of status to those who have been with the business for longer; while other organisations may give additional status to those working in certain fields or who hold certain qualifications, skills, or knowledge.
Military members are granted elevated social status beause of the military's reputation in the community, and organisational status due to the additional power and responsibility that is given with military rank. Their organisational status is increased with every promotion, which in turn increases their perceived or actual social status.
The role of status in retention
Loss of status, particularly after a significant period of time holding it, can be very difficult to accept. For many military members, it can be difficult to gain civilian employment at the same level that they held within the military due to lack of civilian industry experience. This means that individuals who discharge not only lose the social status of being a military member, but also the organisational status that comes with being in their particular position of authority.
They lose the status of their rank and for some they lose the status of being called sir or ma’am. Although outwardly we assert that we don’t see these things as important, inwardly they play a key role in our psyche. Ego and pride aside, losing this status affects the best of us.
I therefore argue that status, or rather the fear of the loss of status, plays an important part in retaining our people, particularly those within positions of authority. We as humans spend our lives building status in our workplaces, social circles, and clubs. The relinquishment of status we have worked very hard to attain is not easy to accept. This creates an environment where people fear leaving Defence, and therefore remain serving regardless of their level of career satisfaction.
Critically, the point at which military service is no longer seen as prestigious is the point at which we lose our social status as military members and therefore, the military loses a critical recruiter and retainer. We need to recognise this and place immense value on Defence’s reputation in our communities and the prestige that comes with being a military member. Without such prestige being placed on service, our status risks being diminished.
There are of course other factors at play, but this article seeks only to identify that, although we may be too proud to admit it, status plays a significant part in recruiting and retaining each and every one of us. So, as you read this article, ask yourself this question: how much of an impact does the status of my service and rank have on me staying in the military? For those not currently serving: how much does the status of my position have on me staying in my current employment/social group/club? If you answer the question truthfully, it may just surprise you.