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          • Year: 2020
          • Why Are People Leaving the Serbian Defence System?

          • BCSP Researchers Katarina Djokic and Marija Ignjatijevic analysed the reasons for employees leaving the Serbian defence system and gave recommendations that could overturn this negative trend.

        • Although official data on the outflow of personnel from the defence system is not publicly available - the data which is available points to the fact that this problem has become more pronounced in recent years. Members of the Serbian Armed Forces terminate their service of their own volition, not only because they are dissatisfied with their pay, but also because of other factors.


          This report provides answers for a number of key questions, in terms of the outflow of personnel from the defence system. In the first part, researchers analysed the scale of the problem and attempted to answer the question of who is leaving the system.

          Subsequently, they examined the most pressing problems that are most often cited as reasons for leaving the system - these being pay, promotion and the burden of additional duties. The research team looked at the long-term consequences of the outflow of personnel and discussed how this issue affects the functioning of the defence system as a whole. The end of the report contains recommendations that could contribute to overcoming the identified human resource management issues in the defence system.


          Research has identified the following factors as main reasons that employees are leaving the defence system:

          • The perception of negative selection in promotion and posting, as well as in referral to training courses (on which further opportuni­ties for promotion and status depend);
          • Work overload;
          • Unpaid overtime and a lack of time for family life;
          • Dissatisfaction with too frequently performing duties that are not part of their job description (particularly maintenance of premises and the parade square);
          • The poor treatment of subordinates by commanding officers and dissatisfaction with working conditions (accommodation, food, equipment shortages);
          • Sense of injustice, “hopelessness” and a misplaced “essence of existence”.


          Research has also highlighted the gap between the expectations of employees and the organisational culture in the defence system that is still being nurtured, despite changes in the contemporary environ­ment. It is unrealistic to expect patriotism to be the main motivational driver of employees, regardless of poor working conditions and demotivating work environment.


          In that sense, the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces need to understand that, in the 21st century, they have become an employer much like any other. This means that they must compete in the labour market to attract the most capable employees from various backgrounds, and continually work on retaining staff. Military personnel are in touch with what is happening in their civilian environment and exposed to societal trends. What is more, military personnel are aware what their rights and duties are. Therefore, they can quickly react to breaches of their rights by finding other work elsewhere.


          The measures the Ministry of Defence has enacted to date in order to retain personnel largely miss the real reasons people are leaving the system. The one thing the MoD has correctly identified is the impor­tance of pay rises. Respondents agree that, with appropriate salaries, it would be easier to tolerate the other workplace problems. However, in the current financial climate, the Government of Serbia cannot offer a pay rise that would be sufficient to satisfy all those working in the defence system, and especially not all those working in the public sector. Additionally, as this study shows, in many cases salaries are not the key reason given for leaving professional military service.


          In the absence of high salaries, the defence system can offer its employees other forms of job satis­faction, which some respondents cited as their main reasons for joining up in the first place:

          • Pride that “I’m working for my country”;
          • Interesting work (e.g. young engineers can work on projects they will rarely encounter in civilian life);
          • Identification with the values the military propagates (especially solidarity and “love for the team”);
          • Reduced years of service to retirement;
          • regular and secure remuneration and addition­al work through which SAF personnel can effectively supplement their monthly incomes.


          On the other hand, all financial and non-financial incentives are futile if Serbian Armed Forces person­nel perceive their working conditions to be unfair and if finding work elsewhere is the most effective way to tackle workplace issues. This is the outcome of a series of deficiencies in human and other resource management, which the Ministry of Defence will not resolve by reinstating the Morale Administration or investing in strengthening the “cultural awareness” of military personnel.


          Instead, the MoD should recognise the connection between personnel retention policies and a far-reaching integrity building process designed to strengthen the defence system, make it abuse-resistant and an environment for all its employees.




          • The Ministry of Defence should analyse which branches suffer from the greatest personnel shortfalls and establish solving problems with staff retention as a priority.
          • In the absence of a comprehensive pay increase, the Ministry of Defence and the Government of Serbia should identify which allowances and reimbursements are crucial to increasing employee motivation. Additionally, the issues of recording overtime and paying those who cannot use the accrued off days, should be resolved at the level of the system as a whole.
          • It is imperative that the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces develop a transparent system for providing information about vacant posts, which would enable professional military personnel to plan their development. Also, establishing better communication between the Personnel Administration and unit commanders is necessary.
          • In order to ensure career progression is in accordance with merit and ability, it is necessary to introduce promotion committees which would independently assess the eligibility of individual cases for transition to a higher rank.
          • It is important to ensure turnover through more frequent rotation of posts by limiting how long it is possible to stay in one post to two or three years - depending on the rank required and the complexity of the role. Personnel remaining in one post for too long can create bottlenecks in career progression and the piling up of certain ranks.
          • In the absence of confidence in the grievance system, many believe that a change of career is the only effective way to tackle the problems they face. Firstly, it is important to ensure employees are better informed about the options they currently have.
          • Also, the Ministry of Defence should re-examine all existing complaint mechanisms and analyse how they could be improved.
          • The Ministry of Defence should explore the most expedient measures for maintaining and cleaning premises and barracks. This study shows that performing such duties eats into the training time and has a negative impact on morale. Additionally, it is important to reduce the amount of administrative work that burdens all professional military personnel.
          • The State Audit Institution should carry out an audit of the expediency of procurement in the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces in order to determine what barriers are preventing more effective procurement and how they could be addressed so that greater efficiency does not increase the risk of corruption.


          Preparation of this publication was supported by Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) through the project “Why are they leaving? - Casting light on the link between corruption and staff retention in Serbian defence sector”. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of TI-DS.

        • Tags: Defence, military, ministry of defence, Serbian Armed Forces, Katarina Djokic, Marija Ignjatijević
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