In honor of Veterans Day, companies across the United States are finding special opportunities to celebrate their veteran employees and show appreciation for their service to the country. While recognizing veterans with a day of celebration and reflection is necessary, it is also important for organizations to remember to provide support not just on November 11th, but throughout the year.
Around 200,000 servicemembers transition out of the U.S. military each year, leading to an exceptional talent pool—but also one that faces a unique set of challenges. Research shows that hiring veterans has an array of long- and short-term benefits, including improved performance, bottom line, and leadership and a stronger, more diverse workforce.
Overall, hiring veterans elevates a company’s workforce by bringing to the table their unique and valuable skill set from their experience in the military, including strong leadership, integrity, determination, adaptability, and the ability to perform under pressure.
While veteran employees can improve the workplace environment, the workplace must improve its environment to support veteran employees, as well, and create a workplace where they can thrive.
Below are some recommendations on how companies can create a veteran-friendly workplace year-round.
Post clear job opportunities that list the necessary skills. Veterans often face a difficult transition to civilian life, and one of the struggles is finding a job that translates their military experience into a comparable civilian job. To make it easier for veterans to correlate their skills, make sure your job postings are clear on what skill sets are necessary for the position. Some veterans may not meet your specific expectations, but the soft skills they’ve learned in the military can make them excellent candidates, so keep an open mind during interviews.
Educate managers and HR leaders about military culture. Veterans can’t carry the burden of adapting to corporate jobs themselves. Company leaders can help bridge the gap by learning about military culture. There are a number of resources like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website, the VA’s Veterans Employment Toolkit, the U.S. Department of Labor’s resources on veterans’ employment and training, Military OneSource, and more. Connect with employees who served in the military to learn about their background, find common ground, and discuss the best ways to work together.
Pair new hires with mentors. To help veterans adjust to the workplace, pair them with a mentor to give them a go-to person for advice or questions. Military members are often assigned to a senior person for on-the-job training, and arranging a mentor will help them ease into the workplace. Consider pairing new hires with mentors immediately when they start, and encourage mentors to schedule coffee, lunches, and regular check-ins to share feedback and openly communicate.
Communicate clearly. People who have served in the military are accustomed to direct communication and receiving instructions in a clear and concise way. Create a specific onboarding process for veterans that provides ample information on company policies, processes, organizational structure, the chain of command, written and unwritten rules, etc. Additionally, make sure that job expectations are clearly defined so you can set veteran new hires up for success by providing a clear career track, outlining expectations, and putting in place regular performance reviews.
Invest in veteran-focused employee resource groups (ERGs) and networks. ERGs play a crucial role in supporting veterans in the workplace and helping them build connections with other veterans in the company. One way to support veterans is to help ensure ERGs have a significant budget and influence within your organization. Most importantly, employees who take on extra work to support ERGs should be compensated and not be viewed as volunteer work.
Provide mental health resources for military veterans. Military service can take its toll on veterans, leaving them with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, 33% of veterans suffer from chronic mental health conditions in the months after separating from military service, according to a study by VA researchers. Mental health support can be offered in a formal way through HR benefits and stipends for mental health apps like Talkspace or BetterHelp so veterans can talk to someone about what they are experiencing. Executive leaders also need to step in and equip every manager and employee level with appropriate resources, and it’s essential for all leaders to communicate the resources available.
Create belonging. Research found that roughly 40% of Americans feel physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. Employees who have a sense of belonging and inclusion are 3.5 times more likely to contribute more fully. Veterans making the leap to civilian life might feel out of place with their coworkers, and they might find it hard to forge relationships with their colleagues. To create a sense of belonging, employers should have regular check-ins with veterans to see how they’re adjusting or answer their questions. Company leaders should also give veterans a voice by encouraging them to speak up during meetings or checking in with them privately about how to include them in conversations. Additionally, employers should ask for input by leveraging technology like Kanarys to understand their actual experiences in the workplace to inform future diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.
Engage DEI consultants and industry experts. DEI experts can identify hidden or systemic barriers that prevent an inclusive and equitable environment for veterans by conducting workplace equity audits and helping companies take the time to diagnose these issues before jumping straight to training. When armed with data, companies can begin tackling systemic barriers and issues and work toward building long-term sustainable and measurable goals.