Employers Must Understand Military to Retain Vets

By By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR May 4, 2012
Military veterans are less likely to stick with organizations in which their manager and co-workers don’t understand their background and experiences, according to Lisa Rosser, military recruiting consultant for The value of a Veteran.

During a concurrent session of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition held April 30-May 2, Rosser described common frustrations experienced by recently separated and retired veterans, by National Guard and Reserve members still serving, and by veterans with disabilities.

Recently Separated and Retired Veterans

Anyone transferring from the military is bound to face a certain amount of culture shock when moving from a climate known for its structure, teamwork and mission focus to the civilian workplace, Rosser explained. After all, the military spends six months to a year turning a civilian into a military member, she noted, but just a few days helping the military person prepare for civilian life. That’s why employers play such a critical role in helping these veterans adapt.

Yet she said the reactions these members often report about their work environments go beyond mere culture shock and include:

  • Frustration over the lack of responsibility they have for people, programs and equipment in civilian workplaces, compared to what they had in the military.
  • A sense that they have nothing in common with their peers.
  • A perception by others that they are too intense or demanding.
  • Suggestions from colleagues, whether stated or implied, that they got the job only because of their veteran status.
To address these kinds of issues, Rosser recommended a company create an integration program for recently separated veterans that provides them with:

  • Guidance on making the transition from a military to a civilian environment.
  • A sponsor; a colleague with military experience who acts as a buddy to the new employee by taking them out to lunch and helping them navigate challenges they face.
  • A mentor assigned to work with an employee after they’ve had a few months to get settled in; the mentor will discuss career progression in the organization—an area that is often less structured in civilian workplaces than in the military.
  • Networking and community service opportunities.
The program should be delivered over time, she noted, and should be developed with guidance and feedback from anyone already employed by the organization who has experience with the military.

Companies of all sizes can formalize such efforts by encouraging employees with military backgrounds and experiences to form an employee resource group for veterans, she added.

National Guard and Reserve

The frustrations experienced by those who serve in the National Guard and Reserve result most commonly from required absences for training and other duties associated with their military positions, which can result in several weeks of scheduled or unscheduled leave, depending on the reason they must report for duty. National Guard and Reserve members have a legally protected right to serve under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), so employers risk legal consequences if they try to interfere with employees’ military obligations.

Rosser explained that members of the Guard and Reserve who become “mobilized” have received a change in status from “reserve” to “active duty,” which means it is likely that they will be deployed overseas. “Deployment” means they are definitely being sent overseas.

Employers can increase the likelihood that they will retain existing employees in the Guard and Reserve by maintaining contact with employees and their families during military service, Rosser said, and by sharing updates with other staff members about the deployed service members’ activities while they are away.

Veterans with Disabilities

Veterans with disabilities face challenges such as pushback from managers and co-workers because of doctors’ appointments associated with a medical condition that resulted from military service. However, as Rosser explained, if they are getting treated at a Veterans Administration medical center, it might not be close to the company, and they won’t have the flexibility to schedule appointments at their convenience. “They have to take what they are given,” she said.

In addition, Rosser said that people often assume veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and wonder what they need to do to protect their employees in case an episode is triggered. But it’s not that straightforward, she explained. “You can’t PTSD-proof the workplace; it’s not like baby-proofing the house.”

What employers can do is become aware of possible signs of PTSD, a condition that can arise in anyone who has faced a traumatic event such as a serious accident or sudden loss. The difference, she said, is that members of the military “have had a lot more opportunities to witness a traumatic event.”

Employers interested in becoming military-ready can access the “Support from Behind the Lines: 10 Steps to Becoming a Military-Ready Employer” toolkit, available on SHRM Online.

Additional resources are available on SHRM Online’s Military Employment Resources Page.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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