Executive Summary

People are not only the key to the success of any organization, people are the very centre of all aspects of our organization. Whether it is keeping planes in the air, ships afloat, or bringing rounds onto targets, nothing moves without our highly trained and dedicated people managing the fight, wherever it takes place. As such, the Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are renewing their commitments to support people so that we continue to offer a rewarding, empowering, inviting, and safe workplace so that our members are motivated to continue their careers in uniform. Retention in the CAF context is the ultimate outcome of all aspects of an individual’s personal and professional experiences as a member of the military, recognizing that these lived experiences are different across many influencing factors. Understanding how an organization, its policies, and its people influence the experience of others is the key to managing retention so that the CAF workforce is strong, sustained, ready, and able to respond in defence of Canada, Canadians, and our interests. The CAF Retention Strategy, therefore, offers insights into how we can better manage the activities which influence the retention of CAF members. This will result in better informed decisions and efforts that will produce improved retention outcomes, both in aggregate and across diverse groups and CAF capabilities.

The CAF Retention Strategy presents our renewed approach to managing retention, designed to flexibly respond to emerging and changing needs for today’s CAF members and the CAF members of tomorrow, and the new demands that might be asked of them. The Strategy responds to needs identified by the Government and associated oversight organizations, and the vision for the CAF presented in the Defence Policy Strong, Secure, Engaged. The Strategy is designed to feed awareness, drive principled approaches to support people, and help inform policy influencers and decision makers to make more effective decisions impacting CAF members. Through guiding and managing activities that influence retention, this Strategy contributes to the awareness and transformation needed to help bring about the culture change required in the CAF in order to overcome prior shortcomings, better prepare for the future, and continue to deliver its mandate by retaining our valuable CAF members. As such, the CAF Retention Strategy aligns with the greater CAF Human Resources Strategy, which aims to optimize the workforce to better respond to the needs of tomorrow and develop the DND/CAF into an employer of choice for Canadians.

Retention, broadly, refers to an organization’s ability to keep its employees. However, it is more than just numbers – higher rates or retention can be a sign of organizational well-being. When an organization values its employees – investing in their well-being and offering a positive and safe workspace – employees will perform better and are more committed to the organization, increasing retention. Retention in the CAF focuses on increasing healthy retention – the continued employment of personnel with core capabilities and talents needed to conduct current and future operations – and reducing unhealthy attrition – attrition that is both avoidable and dysfunctional. Within the CAF, we see unhealthy attrition in particular areas. This includes certain occupations (e.g., logistic occupations), certain years-of- service groups – particularly within the first year of service and after 20 years of service, and populations historically underrepresentedFootnote 1 within the retention data (women, Indigenous PeoplesFootnote 2, visible minorities and persons with disabilities (PWD)).

The Strategy can be conceptualized into three key elements aimed at improving the awareness of how to better manage retention outcomes and how to sustain their efforts to ensure lasting progress.

1. The first element involves exploring the strategic land­scape of retention to create better awareness of how retention should be approached and considered. This includes understanding the multiple aspects of retention, such as: 

  • Influencing factors of retention identified as organ­izational or transaction factors, leadership or rela­tional factors, and personal factors; 
  • Better understanding the current challenges facing CAF members;
  • Better understanding the intersectional factors that can impact all CAF members;
  • Estimating the future challenges that might face the CAF; and
  • Understanding the interconnectivity of retention to other Human Resources (HR) practices or influencing factors central to a person’s perceived experience.

2. The second element involves the principles which guided the development of the Retention Strategy and the reten­tion outcomes we seek to influence. Understanding how this Strategy was shaped and the ways that the organ­ization, leaders, and individuals at all levels can influence people’s desire to remain within the CAF is paramount to instilling a culture of retention. 

  • Leadership Responsibilities: Leaders are a substan­tial influencing factor of retention, they can mitigate and protect members from harmful issues. Every leader will embrace their responsibility to consider retention when they deal with their personnel, and understand that early, effective, and frequent inter­vention can offset unhealthy attrition;
  • Credibility: With evidence-based information, clear and consistent communication, and effective leader­ship, the Retention Strategy will be – and will be seen by members to be – a reasonable, effective approach to keeping valued members in uniform;
  • Value, Diversity and Inclusion: Being an inclusive workforce demands that every member be not just able, but encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work, including the full spectrum of their talents and professional potential, and be invested in their contribution to effectively deliver our organizational mandate. The Strategy will support the diversity and inclusion of every member of the CAF, including directing actions to bring to light the concerns of underrepresented populations;
  • Employment with Dignity: The CAF must work to ensure that all CAF members respect the dignity of all persons within the CAF, regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, language, rank, component, or any other element of a person’s iden­tity. While CAF members have a job to do, they are first and foremost individuals who require, deserve – and will receive – autonomy, respect, and a safe work environment;
  • Strengthen Families: Military service places unique demands on members’ families. Therefore, retention decisions, policies, and programs must recognize and respond to familial needs as appropriate;
  • System Flexibility and Individual Choice: While oper­ational success remains the primary objective, the CAF must balance institutional and service require­ments with members’ personal aspirations to the extent possible. Retention initiatives must be flexible enough to reasonably adapt to members’ needs, providing an enriching career that enables personal aspirations;
  • A One Force Approach: The Strategy will consider the entire force, with the solutions proposed taking into account the complexity of the retention chal­lenges across the various occupations, demograph­ics, and components of the CAF;
  • Effective Communication: Communication will be frequent, two way, and shared with members of the Defence Team so that they understand the benefits and services designed to retain them as members; 
  • Evidence-Based: Some data are available, but cur­rent evidence related to retention and attrition is limited and does not accurately reflect the experi­ence of all CAF members. Going forward, actions will be taken to regularly collect a fuller picture of the experience for all CAF members. Efforts under the Strategy will be based on research into actual attrition rates, differentiating between healthy and unhealthy attrition, examining factors influencing members’ decisions to remain in the CAF or depart from it; and
  • Targeted Retention: Retention is not “one size fits all”. This Strategy will support the targeting of specific occupations, at specific locations, at specific ranks, and at a specific time in order to fulfill the requirements of the CAF to deliver on its mandate. It will also support the targeting of specific circum­stances, demographics, and other factors, as appropriate. 

3. The third element of the Strategy is composed of the Lines of Effort (LOE), which are designed to guide activ­ities in a sustained and deliberate fashion to bring about lasting change to improve the retention outcomes for the CAF. The LOEs of the Retention Strategy are as follows: 

  • Strengthen Governance;
  • Engage Leaders to Promote a Culture Supportive of Retention;
  • Integrate and Align Efforts in Support of a Comprehensive Approach to Retention;
  • Communicate Priorities and Promote Activities to Support Retention;
  • Support CAF Members’ Careers; and
  • Support the Health and Wellness of CAF Members and their Families. 

Through these three elements, the CAF Retention Strategy enables behavioural and cultural change at both the organ­izational level and permeating down to the individual interactions of people across the entirety of the CAF. By supporting and championing the elements above, the CAF will begin tangible improvements in the short, intermedi­ate, and long terms, guided and advised by an identified governing body and Retention Program Office (RPO) to sustain, monitor, and course correct the retention efforts in an evergreen fashion.

As retention itself is an outcome, indicators will signal to the RPO whether the influencing activities are delivering tangible results and whether adjustments are necessary to ensure effective and deliberate management of CAF reten­tion efforts which include the consideration of underrepre­sented populations (see Annex A). The Strategy’s LOEs and associated strategic outcomes are expressed in Logic models contained in Annex B, and the specific action items asso­ciated with the strategic objectives are found in Annex C. To measure the effects resulting from the Strategy and its associated activities, Annex D contains a Performance Management Framework (PMF) which includes indicators to signal progress or regression of the strategic outcomes associated with retention.

For as much as the Strategy does illuminate the issues associated with retention, there are areas today where we continue to lack strategic awareness on the influences of retention. Limited information relating to groups historically underrepresented in retention data affects the ability to develop targeted retention efforts that will effect­ively address the concerns of these groups. Annex E unpacks and discusses some of the available data and analytics-driven research performed, and provides insights that can help guide improvements. As the DND/CAF and Canada writ large have had a contentious history with some specific populations who form part of Canadian society, there are areas where we continue to have limited retention and attrition data because it is expected that there is unequal participation, or potential for disparate impacts. Informed by and developed in response to Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+), Annex A socializes the need to further investigate and address retention issues for underrepresented populations. Annex C provides directed action items to build on this analysis and develop targeted retention efforts for all CAF members, such as that all voices of the CAF are heard and supported in the goal of a fulfilling lifelong career within the CAF.

The CAF Retention Strategy is the culmination of the research and analysis into how the CAF can better manage retention in a deliberate, sustained, and evergreen fashion. As an enabler of culture change designed to flexibly orient activities to respond to current and emerging needs, this Strategy forms part of the broader behavioural and organ­izational approaches to reimagining the future of defence, and supporting the people instrumental to delivering that mandate.

Page details

Date modified: