Do Veterans Thrive In Your Organization?

BY Kathy Crosett
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As our economy approaches full employment, businesses are concerned about how to retain their talent. One category of employees may deserve special attention: veterans. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review outlines the challenges faced by the 360,000 service members who exit the military every year.

A significant number of men and women who leave the military are looking for the next opportunity in their professional lives. Even if they retire from the military with twenty years of service, they possess plenty of energy, good skills and a desire to contribute. The shift from the highly structured military system can be a huge adjustment for some veterans. In fact, up to 80% of ex-​service members last less than two years at the first gig they take after leaving the military.

Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Family and VetAdvisor researched this issue to understand why veterans change jobs and how employers can address the root causes of high turnover. Lack of meaningful work and an unfamiliar work culture are two of the reasons vets job hop.

Let's face it. There’s a huge difference between driving a tank down a desert road while the enemy is dropping bombs around you and dealing with a customer who’s having a meltdown because she needs her copy machine repaired. And then there is the cultural shift. Vets are accustomed to working in a rigid hierarchical organization. There’s little room for gray areas in military operations. A vet who’s used to following orders may feel ill at ease making decisions in an organization with a flat management structure.

Non-​veterans, especially managers, may have trouble understanding where their new employees are coming from. In order to make your new hires feel comfortable, you'll need to exert extra effort. The experts recommend several different strategies.

First, consider establishing a separate onboarding process for new hires who are coming into the organization straight from the military. If your organization uses unique terminology and jargon, spell out the meaning of these terms. If possible, link them to familiar military terminology. You may also want to pair a just-​hired vet with another vet who’s been on your staff for a while. The tenured employee may know where the new hire is likely to stumble and can explain unfamiliar concepts and describe how the position fits into the objectives and goals for the company.

After years of working in the tight circle that is the active-​duty military world, your newest employee may feel like she’s having a hard time connecting with her peers in your organization. Don’t let her start to feel isolated. Set up a group of employees to help her navigate the unique aspects of your culture, such as where people have lunch or what the best volunteer opportunities are.

By addressing both the work requirements and the informal culture, you’ll have a better chance of retaining your veteran employees. You'll also be helping them integrate as they seek to find a new professional identity.