The Abbott Government's low-ball military pay offer last year might ultimately cost the nation success on the battlefield, according to academics at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
A new scholarly article says the "sense of violation and betrayal" felt in the military may have hurt the Australian Defence Force's morale, loyalty to its uniform and even its fighting edge.
Three ADFA instructors said there is evidence the pay offer, branded a "joke" and a "disgrace" by serving ADF members damaged the "psychological contract" between 57,000 our men and women in uniform and the force they serve.
The government was twice forced to improve the pay offer - 1.5 per cent per year with cuts conditions it made in October 2014 to Navy, Army and Air Force personnel - under political pressure and a backlash in the ranks and from service families.
The cuts were eventually taken off the table and the pay offer improved to 2 per cent.
But in an article in the latest edition of the Australia Journal of Public Administration, the three academics at the University of NSW at ADFA in Canberra argue that lasting damage might have already been done.
Authors Sue Williamson, Michael O'Donnell, and Joshua Shingles argue that military personnel, who are not legally regarded as employees, have a complex psychological relationship with the forces they serve.
That psychological contract, the authors say, is critical to achieving victory on the battlefield.
The ADF's strict disciplinary code, its demands on family life and the requirement for members "to place themselves in harm's way against an organised and trained enemy," means they cannot be treated in the same way as public servants or private sector workers.
"The low pay determination has the potential to breach the psychological contract, evidenced by the response of many ADF members to the 2014 pay deal," the academics wrote.
"The 2014 ADF pay deal raises questions regarding the fairness of the process leading up to this agreement from the perspective of ADF members.
"Fairness perceptions and how they are managed have important implications for how organisational members view their psychological contracts.
"This sense of violation of their psychological contracts is evident in the angry emotional responses and sense of betrayal demonstrated by the organization representing ADF members and their families, and by the members themselves."
The danger, according to the three instructors who help train the military's developing officers, is the emergence of "transactional" thinking above the traditional notion of duty.
"The 2014 low pay determination threatens to reinforce transactional thinking among ADF members that is likely to encourage them to focus more on the financial package they receive and how this compares economically to alternative employment options outside of the ADF.
"For those who stay, this transactional approach, and even breach of the psychological contract may well generate a range of negative work behaviours from ADF members ranging from increased employee cynicism, lower levels of trust and loyalty, and counterproductive work behaviours."
"Maintaining the relational elements of ADF members, psychological contracts are critical to the long-term operational success of the ADF."