Although it is increasingly the case that medium to large companies actively recruit veterans to fill their workforce needs, many veterans continue to struggle with the transition to civilian employment. For those who cope with service related injuries, including post-traumatic stress, the strain of this transition piles on their other challenges. As many veterans lack the skills needed to cope with these difficulties, their work life is usually the first area that suffers. In other situations, civilian supervisors and employees can find it difficult to relate to their new veteran colleagues. For example, transitioning veterans not only have to learn a new position, they also have to learn a new corporate culture and vocabulary. When civilian counterparts lack the patience or empathy to accommodate this learning period, veterans can feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
In this post, we offer several tips for promoting veteran retention in the workplace. To be clear, we did not set out to write an exhaustive list. Rather, we are merely hoping to start the conversation by encouraging veteran employees and their civilian counterparts to be mindful of the most common situations that result in an unsuccessful workplace relationship.
Tip #1: Veterans, Choose Wisely
Far too often, veterans look for a job rather than a career. For a significant portion of their lives, these same individuals performed a job that was about more than just a paycheck. They took great pride in performing an important public service, namely the defense of this country and its values. It should therefore come as no surprise that working just any old job will leave these same individuals feeling unfulfilled. Given their military experience and the conditions in the current labor market, veterans would be wise to shop for a position that satisfies their instincts to contribute to a cause that is greater than themselves. More often than not, the veterans who do otherwise will find themselves back on the job market within the first year.
Human resource professionals and hiring managers bear some responsibility as well. It is incumbent upon them to advise veteran applicants, particularly when the duties for the position mark a dramatic departure from their skills and experience. One additional way to overcome the retention problem is to articulate and reinforce your company’s values by making clear how the work they will do contributes to securing and advancing these commitments.
Tip #2: Hiring Managers, Get Buy-in.
Veteran hiring programs can sometimes suffer from poor planning and execution. Often the directive to create or expand a veteran hiring program flows directly from he lips of the CEO to the desk of a hiring manager, without any regard for building the internal support and infrastructure needed to ensure the program will succeed. This strategy can pose problems down the road, particularly when department heads and staff begin to question hiring choices.
To avoid confusion and conflict, communicate. Share the rational for your hiring initiative to your entire staff and connect the initiative to your corporate values. Then reinforce this message in your newsletters and meetings. Demonstrate your hiring successes with pride and enlist the support of employees in overcoming obstacles. For instance, you could solicit input for hiring campaign slogans and reward the lucky winner with a paid day off. This type of strategy tends to build support for your initiative and produces a more hospitable environment for new veteran employees.
Tip #3: CEOs, Educate Your Employees
To successfully implement a veteran hiring initiative, companies often need to educate their civilian workforce. It is not enough to simply generate support for the initiative, companies also need to ensure the staff has a basic knowledge of the military experience, as well as some of the common challenges veterans face during the transition to civilian life.
Fortunately, there are several free sources of excellent information your company can adopt as part of a comprehensive training curriculum. Our favorite source is PsychArmor, which offers classes in Engaging Staff & Retention, Why Hire Veterans, and Welcoming A New Hire. By encouraging employees to review these materials, CEOs can ensure your new veteran workforce is properly welcomed and nurtured in their new roles.
Ultimately, one of your goals is to maximize the efficiency and productivity of your workforce. Therefore, anything you can do to ease the onboarding process, particularly for the veteran community, will help you advance this objective and ensure the future success of your firm.