According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.2 million men and women in America are U.S. military veterans, making up around 8 percent of the adult population. Over four million of these men and women have served voluntarily since September 2001, and many of them are now making the leap from military life into the civilian workforce.
As individuals with extensive levels of training--encompassing both technical skills and "soft skills"--and real-world experience, veterans can make incredibly valuable additions to organizations of all sorts. However, the differences between the military and civilian worlds are stark, and support for veterans can play a pivotal role in their successful transition from one to the other.
While it's easy to celebrate former military personnel every Veterans Day, it's also important to make daily efforts to support their needs throughout the year. Ahead, discover some easy ways to make your workplace more veteran-friendly all year round.
1. Foster empathy through education.
The best way to support people of different backgrounds is to learn more about their experiences and educate yourself about how better to connect with them. There are tons of free sites where you can read about the struggles veterans experience when making the leap to the civilian world, but you can begin on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for a good overview.
Workplaces can also encourage empathy for veterans on a wider scale is by providing training for supervisors and team leaders about veterans' issues and the resources that are available to them. The VA has a great framework for these training sessions and endless pieces of educational collateral for those who want to learn.
2. Create ample opportunities for community building.
One of the biggest adjustments for veterans readjusting to civilian life is the lack of an inherent community in the workplace. "When moving to a new base or post, the military helps military personnel and families adjust," describes the VA. In the non-military workforce, this same structure of support isn't always in place.
For men and women who are accustomed to their teammates' also serving as their neighbors, friends, and essentially family at military bases around the world, it can be a massive adjustment to enter an office setting where people clock out and don't interact outside work.
Consider creating spaces for veterans to forge friendships with their colleagues to help prevent feelings of loneliness as they adjust to a non-military lifestyle, perhaps through optional social activities or family-friendly events at the office.
Facilitating mentorship at work can also be extremely helpful for veterans, who might struggle with building those types of professional relationships for the first time. Consider pairing new hires with potential mentors during their first few weeks on the job, encouraging them to grab coffee or take regular lunchtime check-ins together.
3. Be thoughtful about onboarding and new-hire orientation.
Because the military provides a distinct "chain of command" for its members, it can be strange for veterans to adjust to the often ambiguous nature of civilian workplaces. This discomfort can be easily assuaged by an onboarding structure that provides clarity for new hires.
Consider adding an org chart walk-through to your orientation programming, led by somebody with comprehensive knowledge of your organization's team dynamics. Make sure this chart (and other resources, such as explanations of benefits) are easily accessible for new hires to reference later.
Thanks to the military's rigid structure, most veterans are also used to having their job-role expectations well-defined. If you sense that a former service member is having trouble prioritizing their work or feeling uncertain about how to proceed with something, your organization could probably be doing a better job communicating. Be sure to clearly articulate expectations, urgency, priority, and autonomy level for roles and projects. This is a good practice for veterans and non-veterans alike.
4. Prioritize communication.
One of the easiest ways to support veterans in your workplace is by encouraging communication. This might mean holding office hours or having an open-door policy that encourages them to come with their questions or concerns.
"Given the direct nature of communication in military settings, there may be subtle nuances in conversations and workplace lingo that are unfamiliar to veterans," describes the VA; do your best to help clarify anything that might be causing difficulty for them.
Having open conversations with veteran colleagues is also a great way to learn from them about their past work environments. What did they like and dislike? What efforts have they seen succeed or fail? How do they think your organization can improve?
5. Provide opportunities for development.
In the military, the path to promotion is clear: You have certain criteria and timelines to meet if you want to move up in rank. In the civilian world, a career path is rarely so transparent. You can help set veterans up for success by providing straightforward career mapping, outlining key competencies, and implementing a regular performance review cycle.
Once you've unshrouded those next steps for growth, consider offering professional coaching for veterans in your organization to help them feel equipped for the path forward. This is good for you, too--by enabling veterans to visualize their future within your organization and encouraging their professional growth, you're much more likely to retain them.