About 9 percent of the US civilian population is made up of veterans – ex-military personnel from all conflicts and branches of the military. Being an active duty service member is very different from leading a life as a civilian. Even though all ex-military personnel had their own lives before joining, readjusting to the life of a civilian can be challenging both personally and professionally.
Leaders need to understand these challenges in order to hire and lead veterans successfully. These challenges start even before the interview—many retired service members have not had to write a resume or interview in years, if ever, which can make evaluation difficult for employers. Veterans possess many valuable skills that can be an asset in the workplace, but to really recognize and leverage these skills, managers and leaders need to be willing to support and accommodate employees in the transition back to civilian life. If you’re welcoming veterans into your office, here are some ways you can help make the adjustment process easier.
Be Patient and Transparent
Patience is key in ensuring that veterans successfully adapt to the civilian workforce. Not all of the 250,000 people who leave the military each year have trouble adapting, but a good percentage of them do – about 27% of all US veterans and 44% of post 9-11 veterans. The most important thing to remember about managing ex-military personnel is that they may not have some of the knowledge you take for granted from other new employees. They may never have worked in an office, and may be unfamiliar with the cultural nuances that exist in an office environment. If you notice confusion or uncertainly, encourage questions and be open and transparent about how the office functions.
Don’t Single Veterans Out or Subscribe to Harmful Stereotypes
We all have cultural biases that can prevent us from treating every employee fairly. Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes that affect all veterans—even though veterans have diverse backgrounds and experiences, just like the rest of the population. Don’t stereotype or pigeonhole veterans—they are more than their service, and have different personalities.
One of the most harmful stereotype about veterans in the workplace concerns mental illness – 46% of US hiring managers believed that PTSD and mental illness were concerns about hiring veterans. Not all veterans struggle with these challenges, and even those that do are not defined by them and it may not even affect their work. Encourage employees to socialize and welcome all new team members, regardless of background.
Work with Veterans to Establish Processes
Many veterans are used to working in high-pressure situations, requiring them to think quickly and follow processes and protocols. They’re used to following rules and structure, which may not always be the norm in the modern office. While civilian employees may feel micromanaged with too much structure, veterans are used to this model and often thrive within it. If your veteran employees struggle with unstructured workflows, adapt to their style and work out a more formal structure they can use to be productive (but micromanaging still isn’t appropriate). Clearly outline what needs to be done and why—what are the goals and how do you expect the team to get there?
Use Alternative Evaluation Methods
Depending on your company, you’ll have differing methods for employee evaluation. While some veterans have no trouble showcasing their productivity through these methods, you may need to tweak your evaluation methods in some cases. Just as standardized tests don’t always give a clear picture of student achievement, your evaluation methods may not showcase your employees’ real contributions. Consider thinking outside the box and adapting your evaluation methods to suit employee needs.
Use the Resources Available to You
Not sure how to make veterans in your office feel comfortable? If you ever need guidance, there are many resources available for employers to help veterans find success in the civilian workplace. The US Department of Veteran Affairs has a wealth of resources available on their website for helping to understand challenges veterans face, and how to help ease those challenges.
Encourage Questions and Open Communication
Going back to the first point, questions and communications are the key to preventing misunderstandings and helping veterans feel comfortable in a civilian office. Assigning a mentor new employees can go to with questions can help veterans integrate and get the information they need, although you should always be a resource for them. Be open, and be ready to work with your employees on challenges that may arise—that will help them to remain comfortable and acclimate for a long term, productive role within your company.