Stress from Long Work Hours, Rather Than Deployments, Leads to Decline in Military Re-Enlistments

For Release

December 20, 2005

Stress from long work hours and demanding work schedules—rather than deployments—is responsible for reducing re-enlistments by members of the military, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study found that personnel in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines value deployments—from peacekeeping to combat missions—as an opportunity to use their training in real world missions, take on new responsibilities and participate in meaningful operations.

But researchers also found that separation from one's family, uncertainty regarding deployment dates, feeling unprepared, and the challenge of handling new job requirements—such as counterinsurgency and urban combat operations—significantly reduce re-enlistments.

“The good news is that despite long and repeated deployments and unfamiliar conditions, members of the armed forces have been willing to re-enlist,” said James Hosek, a RAND researcher and lead author of the report. “What we're finding, however, is that these uncertain circumstances cause a great deal of stress and can erode the positive re-enlistment intentions that come from deployment.”

Other authors of the report are Jennifer Kavanagh and Laura Miller.

With the United States engaged in two wars with a fighting force that has declined from 2.1 million to 1.4 million since the end of the Cold War, the nature of military service has dramatically shifted. Service members are experiencing frequent deployments and greater exposure to non-traditional and hostile combat conditions, according to the RAND study.

In order to support the greater demands placed on the military, both personnel at home and those deployed abroad have experienced an increased workload and operating tempo -- before, during and after deployments.

The RAND study is titled “How Deployments Affect Service Members.” It investigates how changes and the recent deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq have affected the lives, stress levels and re-enlistment intentions of military personnel. Using the lenses of economics, sociology and psychology, the study provides insight into the factors involved from several viewpoints.

The RAND study recommends several ways the military can reduce uncertain and stressful conditions, including:

  • Continually updating training so that it addresses: the dynamic nature of combat; changing enemy tactics; and the requirements of modern nontraditional warfare. Training and preparation have the greatest impact on the ability of soldiers to respond effectively in challenging and unfamiliar circumstances, dramatically reducing stress and increasing the intention to stay in the military.
  • Spreading deployments widely among the armed forces to avoid frequent deployments among a few individuals. This would allow qualified personnel the opportunity to use their skills and contribute to a common and understood objective.
  • Examining additional ways to compensate service members sent on long or frequent deployments. This could include increasing deployment pay, using expanded hardship pay, and adjusting pay according to the amount of time deployed.
  • Considering ways to provide additional pay and recognition for service members left on base when others are deployed. Non-deployed personnel are often asked to work long hours to support the current pace of military operations and experience significant increases in work stress as a consequence.
  • Providing inexpensive communication services for deployed personnel, accurate and clear information about deployments and rotation cycles, and effective family support programs.
  • Considering ways to remove the stigma of seeking professional counseling, expanding reintegration training, and creating additional counseling and support training for service members, in order to reduce combat-related stress.

To gauge the attitudes of members of the military, researchers conducted 45 focus groups of enlisted personnel and officers in 2004. Participants in the focus groups gave firsthand accounts of their military experiences, enabling researchers to gather information about their expectations, realizations, unexpected challenges, adaptations, stressful experiences, family relations, and intentions to continue in the military.

RAND researchers also analyzed data from the 2003 Defense Manpower Data Center's Status of Forces Surveys of Active-Duty Members to determine the prevalence of the insights uncovered in focus groups throughout the military population as a whole.

This research was conducted in the public interest and supported by RAND using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of its donors and the fees earned on client-funded research.

The report was produced by the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis for the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, allied foreign governments and foundations.

Printed copies of “How Deployments Affect Service Members” (ISBN: 0-8330-3868-0) can be ordered from RAND's Distribution Services ( or call toll free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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