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A 5-part Strategy for Organizations to Support Veteran Employees

News Type Leadership News
By Kevin Cullen, Colonel, USAF, Retired
Interim director of the Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs Ohio State’s assistant vice provost and director of Military and Veterans Services

After transitioning out of military service, many veterans feel the need to continue their service as mission-driven public and nonprofit leaders for the public good. This was true for the Greatest Generation and still holds true today. However, the transition from military to civilian service remains difficult, as few organizations have developed deliberate strategies in this area. This article presents five strategies for organizations to better support veterans in the workplace.  

1. Recognition and Acceptance

Supporting veterans starts with the recognition that they are a federally protected class. While most leaders, managers and human resources specialists are aware of race, gender, national origin and disability as protected classes, many diversity programs omit veteran status from these important discussions. As a result, some organizations fail to fully capitalize on talent management. Who wouldn’t want an experienced, resilient and adaptable professional as an employee? The first step in an overarching strategy is the recognition and acceptance of this federally protected class. This needs to be embedded into the organization’s culture from the board members to every front-line manager. Only then can an organization break down societal preconceived notions about veterans and specific barriers to employment success.

2. Tailored Approach

Recognition and acceptance, however, are not enough. The next step in a comprehensive strategy is to develop a tailored approach. Just like other sub-populations of employees, veterans are not a homogeneous group. There are significant differences between active duty, national guard and reserve veterans. There are also significant differences between veterans who have been deployed, those who have seen combat and those with physical versus invisible disabilities. The Psych Armor Institute is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that specializes in training anyone who wants to engage with veterans more effectively. A great place to start is the institute’s short video, 15 Things Veterans Want You to Know. This is a valuable tool for understanding military culture and individual differences during the transition to the public sector.

3. Policies and Practices

The next step in an effective strategy is a review of all pertinent policies and practices using a veteran employee lens. There is no more important place to start than with hiring practices. Every effort should be made to have veteran representation in talent management positions, application reviewers and search committees. Combine job descriptions that include skills and abilities veterans gained in their military service with an intentional approach to increasing the number of veteran candidates in recruitment pools. Employers should adjust compensation calculators to account for unique veteran experiences and also deliberately develop personnel pathways for the transition from the military to public or non-profit service.

4. Affinity Groups

Affinity groups play a vital role in ensuring all employees feel valued and empowered as well as in creating safe spaces for key programs. Veterans Employee Resource Groups are particularly adept at facilitating networking, mentoring, coaching and professional development programs. Each of these programs should be designed with veterans’ needs in mind, especially throughout the transition, but also include key veteran employees at every level. Additionally, affinity groups have a proven track record in policy review, employee retention and creating broader advocacy for veteran employees themselves. From onboarding to conflict mediation, an effective veterans’ affinity group can increase both the overall sense of belonging as well as employee productivity.

5. Friendly to Inclusive

Many organizations advertise themselves as military-friendly, but few reach the point of being military-inclusive. This is the difference between a sign in the front lobby or on a website as opposed to a deeply engrained culture. Recognition and acceptance, a tailored approach, policies, practices and affinity groups all create the foundation necessary for veteran employees to flourish.  

To be truly inclusive, more is needed at every level including a process for reasonable accommodation, standard operating procedures and the right amount of veteran employee authority, responsibility and autonomy. This level of veteran inclusion can only be accomplished through intention, strategy, messaging and organizational alignment.  

Historically, nearly 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are veterans and 80% of veteran-owned businesses are successful. While this represents an amazing record of success in the private sector, veterans are ideally suited for public and non--profit calling. Besides being a protected population themselves, veteran employees cut across every other protected class. Veteran employees have an intrinsic calling to serve, and if intentionally developed, bring exponential value to every mission-driven organization. 

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The Military to Civilian Leadership Certificate is for civilian employees who served in the military to learn from each other, build lasting relationships and translate military leadership experience into civilian success.