Veterans at Work - How to Create an Inclusive Culture

How to Create an Inclusive Culture for Veterans at Work

Recently, one of the soldiers in my reserve unit decided it was time to hang up the uniform and transition to the civilian world. During an “exit counseling” meeting, I asked him about his thought process behind this decision and the reasons he joined a part-time reserve unit after active duty. He responded in a way I believe reflects the thinking of many transitioning soldiers. He was concerned that, without the structure of full-time service, he might not be able to land on his feet.

Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Only a few months after moving on from active duty, he was applying his passion for graphic design in an organization that welcomes veterans at work.

Reintegration Realities

However, for many former service members, this gear shift isn’t nearly as fluid. It may seem odd that veterans face so many hurdles when seeking meaningful employment. After all, American corporations offer a plethora of opportunities, and civilian organizations generally view veteran culture in a positive light. For example, employers tend to associate military service with premier leadership acumen, dedication to working within a group, superior adaptability, and strong problem-solving skills.

These perceptions are on track. Former service members bring a wealth of skills, dedication, and a deep sense of duty to their corporate roles. Military responsibilities are rich in leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving. But these strengths sometimes get lost in translation during the civilian hiring process. With a more inclusive, accommodating environment for veterans at work, you can more easily recruit and retain candidates from this attractive talent pool. The following ideas can help:

Ways to Welcome Veterans at Work

1. Customize Your Onboarding Process

Recognizing the unique qualities veterans bring to the workforce is important for their success as they reintegrate. Effective employers acknowledge these distinct characteristics and tailor onboarding programs accordingly.

Imagine starting a new job and discovering that your military experience is not only acknowledged, but embraced. That’s the aim of tailored onboarding. You’ll want to show veterans their service is valued. It’s about demonstrating that an individual has a unique role to play within your company, and that role ties into a bigger vision.

  • Frame Your Culture in a Meaningful Way
    For successful onboarding, begin with a clear, complete introduction to your company and its culture. Focus on what’s expected, including organizational values, communication styles, and workplace norms. This kind of orientation equips veterans with the knowledge they need to assimilate more quickly and easily.
  • Fast-Track Assimilation With Relevant Tips
    Don’t forget to address the unique challenges veterans may face during their transition back into civilian life. For example, they will need to learn corporate lingo, adjust to a different chain of command, and understand how to operate effectively within existing teams.
  • Make the Most of Mentoring
    Mentorship within the organization can play a major role here. Pairing veterans with experienced colleagues is a natural way to help them establish valuable relationships while providing a reliable source of guidance during the initial stages of employment.

Bottom line: Effective onboarding isn’t just a gesture. It’s a commitment to help veterans succeed by ensuring they feel valued, clarifying how they contribute to your mission, and equipping them to grow and excel in their new role.

2. Provide Skills Translation and Training

After welcoming a veteran into the fold, your focus should shift to translating their military skills into the context of their civilian job. This critical process acknowledges a veteran’s unique talents and nurtures their abilities, so they integrate more seamlessly into the organization as a whole.

Veterans often possess years of experience in leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving in a military context, but these skills don’t always seem directly aligned with their civilian roles. Cultivating a work environment that allows these potential skills to shine can be a game changer.

  • Identify Transferable Skills
    Employers can bridge this gap by helping veterans understand how their expertise aligns with civilian job requirements, especially as it relates to organizational and leadership skills. Many military occupational specialties (MOSs) don’t transfer one-to-one with corporate skill sets. Identifying transferable skills in creative ways can boost a veteran’s work ethic while addressing your company’s specific needs.
  • Invest in Developing New Skills
    Upskilling opportunities also play a vital role in this process. Veterans bring a wealth of skills to the table, but their military experience teaches them there’s always room for further growth and improvement. By offering relevant training and development paths, you can ensure that vets remain confident about their professional capabilities and stay up-to-date with industry standards and practices.

At the same time, it’s crucial to recognize and leverage veterans’ unique abilities. Attributes such as leadership, teamwork, adaptability, and a strong work ethic are ingrained in their DNA. By acknowledging these strengths, you can honor veterans’ service while harnessing their potential to add value to your team.

3. Offer a Flexible Work Environment

People from all walks of life appreciate a flexible work environment. However, for people juggling multiple aspects of life as they transition from active service, the freedom to work without rigid clock-in/clock-out times is especially important. Employers can help in multiple ways. For instance:

  • Offer Self-Directed Scheduling
    Veterans often need to adjust their work schedule so they can accommodate medical, financial, and other crucial appointments. Also, participating in extracurricular lifestyle activities is essential. For example, veterans benefit from joining group workouts, taking time to re-establish bonds with family members, and engaging in other practices that support mental health. By accommodating these needs, you make it possible for veterans to take care of themselves without stress or conflict. At the same time, this demonstrates that employee health and wellbeing matter to you.
  • Provide Access to Helpful Resources
    Along the same lines, paying for fitness class memberships, health advisor services or a life coach builds yet another layer of resiliency and goes well beyond token gestures of care. Taking advantage of these lifestyle resources helps relieve a variety of mental health concerns, not just for veterans, but for your entire organization.
  • Encourage Work-Life Integration
    A flexible work environment naturally promotes work-life balance, which is a crucial factor in successful reintegration. Giving veterans the freedom to manage their personal responsibilities in tandem with work-related duties empowers them to be fully engaged and present during their working hours. Trusting them to do the right thing without an overbearing management culture enhances job satisfaction and productivity. This benefits your organization, as well.

Keep in mind that work flexibility for veterans isn’t just about convenience. It’s also a meaningful way to acknowledge individual needs and responsibilities outside of work. Offering a supportive atmosphere where individuals can flourish both professionally and personally is a powerful way to demonstrate your commitment to every team member.

A Final Note on Supporting Veterans at Work

Ultimately, ensuring that veterans transition successfully into civilian work life is a collective effort. It challenges employers to take a genuine, proactive interest in employee wellbeing. Those with successful veteran-centered programs are tapping into a highly talented pool of people with demonstrated skills, commitment, and work ethic.

In return, this creates an environment where veterans feel comfortable sharing their competencies, ideas, and lessons learned from their military experience. By developing supportive communities, offering a broader vision for growth, and providing a strong mission focus, supportive employers can leverage veteran talent to build a more diverse, skilled, resilient, and innovative workforce.