It’s no secret that transitioning to the civilian workforce after the military can be challenging. In fact, so many former soldiers find this process to be a culture shock that only 1 in 5 Veterans will stick out their first civilian job for more than two years.
What does this all mean for you, as an employer? There’s a huge opportunity to distinguish your organization as a place that’s committed to retaining and engaging Veteran workers. And because more than 500 service-members are transitioning to civilian life every day, one Veteran’s success story will likely attract many others.
Here are the top three things that Veterans we talked to at SAVI say employers can do to help ease their transition into civilian work life and encourage retention.
1. Speak Their Language: Between writing business-friendly resumes and translating their military skills to the civilian job market, Veterans spend a great deal of time learning the new language of civilian work culture. It wouldn’t hurt for managers and co-workers to meet them halfway on this challenge by getting more familiar with some basic military jargon and culture to make Veteran workers feel more welcomed.
Another major difference many former service-members point out about their new civilian workplaces is typically lower urgency levels. A core value of military life is timeliness, yet civilians don’t always have the same pressures to show up on time — be it for meetings or project deadlines. Keep this ingrained perspective in mind when you have a meeting with Veteran colleagues, so that you either make sure you’re punctual or, at the very least, let them know you’ll be late.
Though these differences may be seem small, they can be extremely important for managers and co-workers to address when trying to build a successful work team and relationships with a new Veteran hire.
2. (Ask to) Ask About Their Service: Military Veterans are often proud of their service — as they should be. And just like all other members of the human race, they talk about their experiences as a way to build a shared understanding with others. So, don’t be shy in letting Veterans know you’re happy to listen — but don’t force it either. For many Veterans, their military service is what first shaped their worldview, and by asking questions about their service, you may better relate to their mindset on the job. For other Veterans, being pressed for details of their service can come off as stereotyping, bring up painful memories — or even be outright prohibited by security clearance laws! A good strategy is to first ask if they want to talk about their experience serving.
Then (if they say yes), don’t just ask what branch they were in and go on your merry way. Go a level deeper to learn what their specific job was when they left their branch of service, what that role involved, and what it was like in the day-to-day. They’ll probably use some terms you don’t quite follow, so ask for a clarifying description if you need it. You don’t need to be an expert, but if you’ve done Step 1 above, you probably have at least some understanding of the military and can ask more specific questions that will get them talking — not to mention earn you some brownie points.
3. Know Their Value and Tell Them: Everyone wants to feel like they’re contributing something valuable at work, but Veterans especially are used to a career that centers on defending our country and fighting for freedom. Talk about being a meaningful mission! Because of this innate drive, make sure the Veterans on your staff know their immediate and long-term impact and that they understand the clear purpose and mission of your organization. Direct communication and feedback is not only acceptable, but preferred. By showing them in real, measurable ways how they are contributing to the success of your team (or still have room to grow), you will help give them greater job satisfaction, which for you means higher retention rates. It’s a win-win.
Want to learn more about recruiting, retaining, and engaging Veteran employees? Looking to assess the gaps and areas for improvement at your own organization? Visit our For Employers page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.