Create a Workplace That Veterans (and Non-Vets!) Will Appreciate

Posted November 12, 2018 by Sasha Butkovich in Managing Your Team
Military veterans bring unique perspectives and skills to teams of all kinds. For employers looking to hire veterans, here are some tips for creating a more veteran-friendly workplace.

Employers looking to hire veterans are looking at a great pool of candidates. Veterans often bring valuable technical and leadership skills to the workforce, and can be a great asset to diverse teams of all kinds. After all, diversity isn’t only about race, sexual orientation, or age. Building a diverse team includes hiring people with diverse backgrounds, education, and ways of thinking.

As Justworks CEO Isaac Oates (a veteran himself) says, “Having people with military experience in your workforce brings a different perspective.”

Related Article: Why Cultivating Diversity in the Workplace Matters at Justworks

“What I like about former military people is that they have an increased sense of resourcefulness and, in many cases, direct leadership experience,” said Isaac. “Because they’ve trained and operated under significant stress, they tend to get rattled less easily.”

For the veterans on your team, or those who may be potential hires, we wanted to share some tips and advice for creating a more veteran-friendly workplace.

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Overcoming Stereotypes of Veterans

Many people, whether consciously or unconsciously, stereotype military veterans. According to a survey of veterans, about half said their colleagues made assumptions about them that weren’t true, like that they have post-traumatic stress disorder or are politically conservative. On top of that, almost a third of the survey respondents with a service-related injury said they hid it from their coworkers.

Having people with military experience in your workforce brings a different perspective.

By creating a more inclusive and veteran-friendly workplace, employers can do a better job of dispelling these stereotypes and helping people feel they can bring their whole selves to work. Veterans are people, too. Treat veterans as you would any other candidate or employee — as people with diverse backgrounds and varied experiences.

While there is no one-size-fits all solution, there are some common themes that can help attract and retain military veterans. As an added bonus, many of them may also be beneficial for the rest of your team too.

Mission Mindset

The military in general is mission-driven. People know what they are working toward, and always have goals and milestones to aim for and achieve. That same survey cited above found that roughly two-thirds of veterans reported feeling more purpose in the military than in their corporate roles. For this reason, former military personnel are often drawn to jobs in the non-profit and startup sectors, where businesses have mission-driven cultures.

If your business isn’t in these industries, there are still strategies you can adopt from a mission-driven environment to help attract and retain veterans. These ideas focus on creating a collaborative, team-oriented environment, which is where many veterans thrive.

Creating Purpose and Transparency

A company can provide a mission mindset by being transparent in where they’re headed, and how each person fits into that context.

There’s a saying in the military that “information is motivation.” In other words, transparency is key. Of course being transparent doesn’t mean involving every worker or employee in making every decision. But often times, you can better inform people on how decisions are made, and demonstrate the organizational vision and values. It’s a matter of showing each person how what they do has an impact.

“When I was lower enlisted, I was still given a top-down rundown of goals and how that pertained to my tasks,” said Ken Lim, a veteran and founder of the Friends With Veterans employee resource group (ERG) at Justworks. “A company can provide that environment by being transparent in how they make decisions, where they’re headed, and how each person fits into that context.”

Helping employees understand how what they do in their individual roles impacts the business, its customers, and the broader community is great not just for veterans, but for everyone on the team. Instilling that sense of purpose is one way to boost camaraderie across the board.

Related Article: Boost Employee Morale: 23 Ways to Make Your Team Love Coming to Work

Providing Opportunities in the Workplace

In many large businesses or corporations, there may be a support system for vets. Some companies have programs where they hire people directly out of the military and groom them in rotational programs. These programs may be one or two years, and ultimately lead the employee to a senior or director level role. This can be great for veterans looking to go into management in a more corporate environment.

Mentorships are a great way to foster connections among veterans at your orgainzation.

Small- to medium-sized businesses, on the other hand, may not be able to offer those same programs. However, there are perks to working for a smaller organization that can be a draw for some vets. Employees get more exposure to the workings of the company outside of their own job. They often get more insight into the organization, and have more opportunities to give input. Culturally, smaller businesses may be a better fit for many veterans. This was Ken’s experience.

“When I joined Justworks, the company was around 125 employees,” he said. “Because of the size and the strong culture of collaboration, I was really motivated to do a lot of work and grow my skills.”

Another strategy for retaining veterans is through fostering connections. Mentorships are one great way to do this, especially if you have other veterans within your organization who can help a new or transitioning veteran employee by providing support and guidance. Establishing an employee resource group is also a great idea. These groups can help promote conversation and learning between fellow veterans, but they can be open to non-military members as well. This helps forge connections with other coworkers, and team bonding on a broader level.

Tips for the Hiring Process

When it comes to the hiring process, it helps to be accommodating of veterans and their resumes. While there are certainly software engineers and other common business roles in the military, many other functions, such as combat, don’t translate as easily to a corporate setting. Being able to decipher a military resume is important, as they can be very complex.

If you have a veteran applicant, try to look at the entire picture of their responsibilities in the military for a better understanding of how it might translate to the workplace. If you have a veteran on your team already, try asking them to review the resume to provide more context. If not, allow for a more flexible interview strategy. Invite the candidate to walk through their resume with you, and ask them more out-of-the-box interview questions. This can lead you to a better understanding of how their experience fits the role you’re hiring for.