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Tips for Managing Veterans In The Workplace: A Guide for HR

Elle Mason

by Elle Mason - July 22nd, 2022

Veterans often enter the workforce with a range of different perspectives and experiences - but despite this rich background, they often face unemployment at higher rates than civilians. 

In fact, despite having highly versatile skills, and being extremely resilient and adaptable, veterans face many challenges with re-entry into the civilian workforce - largely because of a lack of mutual uncertainty around how to translate their experiences. Civilians don’t have the context or experience to be able to understand how military service translates to a business need or role, and veterans often struggle to translate their experiences to a civilian application directly. In other words, there’s a communication gap that creates the perception of a skills mismatch.

Many HR professionals may wonder how to support veteran new hires best to set them up for success. This article will cover tips to help effectively manage veterans in the workplace.

Provide Context

Any diversity initiative needs to be organization-wide, and the first step to getting everyone aligned is to explain “the what and why.” Discuss the incorrect stereotypes around hiring veterans — preconceived notions society may have around issues surrounding mental health, as well as statistics about how veterans may struggle to find jobs and are underemployed.

According to Stars and Stripes, nearly two-thirds of veterans have difficulty transitioning to civilian life. Meanwhile, 46% of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM cited mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder as barriers to hiring veterans. It’s crucial that we challenge these misconceptions at every level to ensure that the environment is one of inclusion.

Actively Source Veteran Candidates

As with any active diversity and inclusion effort, there must be an intentional approach to bringing those candidates into the candidate lifecycle. To start, begin thinking about potential traits and skills that veterans would have gained through their service, and incorporate them into your job listing. Be explicit about being veteran-friendly and use veteran-specific job boards and recruitment centers. And of course - ensure your posting is inclusive in language.

Clarify Your Mission and Procedures

Veterans are used to being driven by a mission and having standard operating procedures. Similarly, most organizations have a broad mission or vision statement and a manual or set of procedures. However, in the chaos of onboarding, some of this information isn’t always expressed. To the degree that it’s possible, providing a mission for a project, or a checklist or other form of operating procedures will work well.

Explain Culture and Context

Many elements of office culture become engrained and seem second nature over time, but to someone who has never worked in an office can actually feel quite foreign. The more effort the organization can make into explaining the context and the culture, the better new employees will be able to integrate. Consider all of the things about the office that you just “know:” what’s considered "acceptable" dress, speech/language, sense of humor, socialization outside of work, etc. Make as much of it explicit as possible.

Provide Autonomy

Most people feel adequately challenged with the right amount of authority and responsibility, and similarly - most people don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Trust that you hired and trained people well, give them appropriate context and resources, be clear about the mission and operating procedures and then allow people to have as much autonomy as the role allows.

Lead by Example

As always, be the leader that you want employees to follow and emulate. Veterans especially are used to being led by decisive, people-centric, and mission-driven leadership - and military leaders often receive considerable coaching, making the expectations of veterans quite high.

Ultimately, your veteran inclusion effort will require intention and strategy - but with sound messaging, an alignment in mission and values, and a focus on building organizational belonging, your recruitment effort will go a long way.