As we move into the era of flexible working, why would ‘Flexible Service’ in the Australian Defence Force see little uptake?

This is the question UNSW Canberra graduate and current Master of Philosophy student Annie North is looking to answer to advance work-life balance for members of the Australian Army.

‘Flexible Service’ is an option available to members in the Permanent Forces that is aimed at helping balance a member’s military and non-military commitments; those of work and life.

“In 2016, the Australian Defence Force implemented a whole-of-Defence workforce model known as the Total Workforce System, which provides different ways for members of the Army, Navy and Air Force to serve.

“One of these ways is known as Service Category 6 (SERCAT 6). One of its purposes is to enable members of the Permanent Force to work less than full-time hours without forgoing their service benefits like healthcare, housing, and superannuation, and by doing so, improve their work-life balance,” Annie said.

Annie holding both her children.
Annie and her husband have served as Permanent Force members in the Australian Army for 20 years. Image credit: Annie North.

Annie and her husband have served as Permanent Force members in the Australian Army for 20 years. They have both worked less than full-time hours under SERCAT 6, as a temporary arrangement at different points in their careers, in an effort to pursue work-life balance for their family.

“Our decision to serve in SERCAT 6 has not come at the expense of our careers. Our decision to do so has greatly benefited our family,” she said.

However, despite their positive experience with SERCAT 6 and the expectation that it would be more popular among the Permanent Force, uptake remains low, particularly among males. As men make up a majority of the Australian Army, Annie is “eager to understand what barriers they face in pursuing work-life balance”.

In her early research analysis, Annie established that “gender fundamentally influences the experience and uptake of flexible-work options such as working reduced hours.”

“Literature supports the Army data – women are far more likely to pursue work-life balance by working part-time hours compared to men. In addition, the intersection of the highly gendered organisation and organisational culture also results in various barriers that significantly influence the compatibility of flexible-work practices and a member’s power of choice,” she said.

As Annie continues her research into the topic, she hopes to expand on “work-life research within the military context, combining her professional experience, passion for people and intellectual curiosity to drive organisational change for future generations.”

Annie is currently writing a series on Pursuing Work-Life Balance in the Military, which is being published on Grounded Curiosity Propel Her. Her series aims to provoke thought, incite discussion and promote the personal and professional growth of women serving in the military. Annie uses snippets of her personal story as a vehicle to engage readers, communicating insights from literature in a consumable and practically useful manner.

“I am passionate about doing my part to drive organisational change that benefits all members so that we can collectively deliver people capability as ‘One Army’.”