Assisting Veterans in the Workplace

Mark Sagor



veterans in workplaceOf the 21.5 million veterans in the United States, 9.1 million are currently in the workforce. According to government estimates, one million service members will be leaving active duty over the next five years.

Last year on Veterans Day I posted a piece on the special value and skills veterans bring to civilian work.

I would like to observe this Veterans Day by focusing on what we can do to support veterans in their transition from military life to corporate life.

While the majority of veterans (70%) report an easy transition to civilian work life we should be prepared to assist the other 30% with programs and initiatives that help them to succeed.

In a major research project published in April 2013, (Veterans in the Workplace: Recruitment & Retention) veterans described how their transition experience can be complicated by a number of factors:

  • Physical and psychological service-related injuries (including PTSD)
  • Difficulty communicating one’s military experience and skills to non-military listeners
  • Lack of written rulebook on the prevailing (unspoken) corporate rules
  • Misunderstandings with coworkers due to differences in one’s manner, expectations and speech.
  • Frustration with a less clear chain of command
  • Missing the sense of mission and camaraderie that resulted from knowing that the lives of others might depend on the quality of your work

As one veteran put it:

“The civilian world (is)… less structured. With the military you know what you are going to wear every day. You know what time you need to be at work. You know how much time you are going to take to be on the job, and if there is a mission critical thing, you do as many hours as you have to in getting the job done. You understand what everybody’s position is in the military because their rank is on their sleeve or their collar, so there’s no question as to what level a sergeant is versus a lieutenant versus a general. Everybody knows who’s who. That makes things easy as far as how do I deal this person and how do I deal with that person. …There are all sorts of unwritten rules that come to be very real in the civilian world, but they are not written down. I can’t go read them on a sign or a posting; whereas, on a military base, if there’s a rule, it’s written down somewhere and you can go read it.”

Mentoring is one of the key initiatives organizations have developed to support and retain their employees who are veterans facing these transition issues. Mentors can help veterans negotiate office issues and dynamics and master the expectations and preferred tactics of corporate interactions.

Peer support initiatives are another effective way for organizations to support transitioning veterans. Affinity and networking groups can reduce the sense of loneliness some transitioning veterans may feel in response to losing the close relationships that characterized their military experience.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are also an important channel for organizations to extend support to their transitioning veterans. Counselors who are experienced with veteran issues can provide confidential assessment, support and referral for specialized services.

Let’s demonstrate our respect for veterans by providing the programs they may need to effectively transition to civilian work. We owe our veterans that and a lot more.