Supporting veterans as they transition to the office

By Rebekah Seder, Program Manager

These days, there is a growing call for public and private sector employers to commit to hiring veterans. Many companies promote their recruitment of veterans as a PR move. But despite this trend, there is a high level of job turnover, dissatisfaction, and unemployment among veterans. According to Emily King, an HR expert in military transitions at the Buller Group, these trends underscore the need for recruitment to be matched with effective retention strategies, especially given the inevitable challenges that veterans face when transitioning into new civilian jobs for the first time.
At a recent brown bag discussion with funders, King explored some of the specific challenges that veterans face in the workplace:

New workplace culture: You don’t need first hand experience to know that the military is radically different from any other work environment. But sometimes the more subtle norms and customs that contribute to workplace culture are taken for granted. Small things, like calling your boss by her first name or knowing when to bring your own lunch to a meeting, can seem obvious, but not knowing unspoken rules can make the workplace profoundly uncomfortable.

Negative stereotypes: Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often face stereotypes and assumptions about mental illness, which can make it challenging for them to find jobs. In addition, many people have the impression that while serving in the military, soldiers simply follow the orders of their commanding officers and therefore won’t be critically thinking, self-directed employees – a belief, King pointed out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Life skills: Many veterans, particularly young enlisted soldiers, come out of the service lacking financial literacy skills. Moreover, many are unfamiliar with the intricacies of employee benefits and therefore don’t always know the right questions to ask HR when they take new jobs.

So how can philanthropy support returning veterans? There are a number of nonprofit organizations that support veterans and military families in our region. Identifying effective organizations, sharing information among colleague funders, and connecting organizations with resources is one way. Funders can also help nonprofits position themselves to be employers of veterans. In fact, many veterans say they are happiest working at mission-driven organizations where they can play a variety of roles using different skills – much like they did while serving in the military.

Finally, funders can use their voice to raise awareness among companies – including among their corporate philanthropy colleagues – of the need for effective corporate policies and practices that support veterans in the work place over the long term.

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