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Civilians and Soldiers in the Workplace

  • Kelty makes his presentation to the NATO task force in Brussels.
    Kelty makes his presentation to the NATO task force in Brussels.
February 06, 2014
Sociology professor Ryan Kelty, recently returned from a meeting in Brussels, is helping  a NATO task force study the ways civilian employees affect military morale and retention.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Professor Ryan Kelty’s research on the effects of integrating civilians into the military workforce is helping shape NATO recommendations and military manpower decisions among its member nations. Kelty, associate professor of sociology at Washington College, traveled to Brussels in mid January to share his research with an 11-nation NATO task force studying the topic “Military and Civilian Personnel Work Culture and Relations in Defence Organizations.” 

Professor Kelty focuses much of his scholarship on military sociology, particularly the increasing use of civilian contractors as “force multipliers” in the contemporary armed forces and their impact on the job satisfaction, unit cohesion and retention of their military colleagues. Based on 10 years of research with sailors and soldiers serving in the U.S., Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Kelty has found that, in general, they are comfortable working with contractors, view them as competent, and think they make the military more flexible and better able to accomplish missions. However, when they compare their situations to those of the contractors, it reduces their job satisfaction and unit cohesion and makes them more likely to leave the military.

“They feel relatively deprived compared to the contractors and therefore less satisfied with their jobs and less committed to the organization,” Kelty says.  “It doesn’t matter if the soldier works along side a contractor doing the same job every day, or only sees contractors occasionally – having contractors integrated in the unit reduces cohesion, which then decreases job satisfaction and retention.”

Cohesion is considered a critical variable for the military and it has historically been used as a motivation to exclude groups—including African Americans, women and gays—from full inclusion in the military, Kelty notes. “Yet, ironically, the United States has significantly increased the number of contract and Department of Defense civilians working with the military without considering the impact to cohesion.”

Later the same month, on January 29, Kelty provided a briefing on gender equity issues to a top Naval advisory panel. Read about that here.

Kelty holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Maryland, where his dissertation topic was “Civilianization of the Military: Social-Psychological Effects of Integrating Civilian and Military Personnel.” He served on the faculty at the U.S. Military Academy for three years before joining the Washington College faculty.

Last modified on Feb. 7th, 2014 at 12:54pm by .