“Thank you for your service.”
Independence Day brought another round of gratitude for our military veterans, in advertising, TV specials and news reports. We may even use it ourselves. But there is a more meaningful expression of thanks that so many of them want to hear: “You’re hired.”
Many Human Resource departments are developing programs to recruit veterans, and have some success in attracting and hiring qualified candidates. Retention is often more difficult. Companies often assume that once a vet is hired, their role is done. The lack of assimilation practices is a major reason for veteran attrition. Developing good retention strategies can yield a committed, productive workforce.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, veterans make up 9% of the civilian population. As a result, many of us don’t know veterans or really understand what military life is like. We may think of them as stereotypes: either heroes or wounded warriors, prone to explosive emotions or physically disabled.
There’s a pervading assumption that they all suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that at any moment veterans may have violent outbursts that threaten the workplace. In reality, between 11% and 20% of all recent veterans experience PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That compares with 8% of the civilian population, people who may have been victims of tornados, floods or crime.
PTSD sufferers are more likely to withdraw than to become violent. As with any health issue, your department can offer guidance in accommodating any PTSD sufferer.
With that aside, what can HR do to help your company’s veterans succeed?
Think of the transition from military to civilian life as moving to a different country. The culture is different; the rules are different, and the language is different. There are a number of resources, including training programs, which will help you and your managers learn and understand as much as you can about military life.
Dawn McDaniel is an Army veteran as well as the founder and president of Bravo Delta Consulting. Her firm provides guidance to corporations on veteran recruitment and retention. McDaniel notes that the military offers a highly structured environment. Its culture is centered and dependent on team spirit. Everything that is accomplished in the military is successful because everyone pitches in.
“In the military there are clear rules of engagement,” McDaniel says. “They know when and where they can and cannot move, what their mission is and how to accomplish it. And within those rules, service members are constantly working out new solutions. When they move to the business world, the rules of engagement are not as clear.”
According to McDaniel, everything a service member needs to know is easily accessible and explicitly detailed. Are your company policies descriptive and robust? Where do you learn how to do an expense report or track your time spent working on a project?
Be conscious of your company’s hidden culture. A VA study found many veterans frustrated by the lack of a written rulebook on the prevailing unspoken corporate rules. Do coworkers go out to lunch or eat in? How do employees address their managers or colleagues? Imagine deciphering “business casual” when you’ve had a choice of three uniforms to wear, each for a specific occasion.
Veterans enjoy a significant sense of purpose and ownership over their jobs. They continue to want that in the corporate world. But without a clear understanding of a career path, veterans can become frustrated.
As with any new hire, clear communication with your veteran, up front, makes their assimilation easier.
Veterans develop tremendous camaraderie during their time in service. It is a community that is hard to replace. Add the culture shock of finding yourself in the midst of people who have completely different expectations with regard to office interactions. No wonder many vets may feel themselves adrift.
Human Resources can take the lead by developing a veteran-specific mentor program. By sharing their experiences about navigating office issues and company dynamics, mentors can provide much needed guidance. They are an invaluable resource in helping veterans adapt to their new culture.
Veterans leave the service with a “can do” attitude. Human Resource professionals can make that work for the organization and really benefit from thanking them for their service with a well-placed job.
Barbara Kurka is a consultant is the areas of Coaching, Training and HR Strategy. More information about Barbara and her services can be found at http://www.barbarakurka.com.