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America's Heroes at Work — Veterans Hiring Toolkit

Step #5 — Promote an Inclusive Workplace to Retain Your Veteran Employees

As most employers know, retaining a skilled workforce requires effort after the hire. Retaining a Veteran in the civilian workforce is not all that different than retaining other top talent. Most employees want to know and feel they are appreciated, respected and worthwhile to the team. There are, however, a few suggestions for being inclusive of Veterans in your focused retention efforts.

Place a value on military service

Understand that many transitioning Service Members have leadership capabilities above and beyond the typical civilian employee. Value this characteristic and find ways to weave leadership responsibilities into the civilian position. Be sure to overtly demonstrate the value your company places on military training and experience, perhaps by creating a Veteran-specific page on your website or reaching out to a local Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to find out how you can partner to assist in transitioning Service Members into the civilian workforce.

Expand traditional Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Many companies offer their workers access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) - employer-sponsored services designed to assist employees and their families with managing work and life's daily challenges. EAPs have a long history of providing resources to help employees with personal and job performance issues, identifying and resolving workplace challenges (ideally before they result serious problems at work), and promoting healthy lifestyles. It is necessary for EAPs to continually update their tools and resources in order to keep on top of potential issues that may impact the workforce.

While there are an overwhelming number of resources that support (multiple) deployment and reintegration issues for Service Members, Veterans, spouses and family members, there are some specific tools and resources recommended by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. Additionally, EAPs may wish to develop partnerships with local Veterans Service Organizations and/or a local VA office in order to stay connected and updated on new resources.

Small businesses that do not offer EAP services may be able to join with other small businesses to form a consortium to do so. Offering an EAP and ensuring all employees - Veteran and non-Veteran - know about it is a good way to demonstrate a company's commitment to the health and well-being of its employees and their families.

The National Resource Directory (NRD) is an excellent tool for the EAP toolkit. A partnership among the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, the NRD is an online tool for wounded, ill and injured Service Members, Veterans, their families and those who support them (e.g.., employers and co-workers). It provides access to thousands of services and resources at the national, state/territory and local levels that support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration.

Develop and promote mentorship in the workplace - Vet to Vet

Mentorships are not a new workforce concept, but according to the information gathered from Veterans and employer networks, Veterans in particular look for connections (and ways to connect to their peers) in the civilian workforce. Ideally, someone who has had similar experiences and has already been through the transition process could provide support to a new or transitioning Veteran employee. While Employee Assistance Programs help employees address personal problems, the guidance, support, friendship and advice from one Veteran to another is unparalleled. People, as a whole, simply want to feel connected and comfortable - and this is no different for transitioning Service Members. Consider reaching out to your employees to learn who your Veterans are, as well as military spouses and family members. Find out from those groups what you can do to support them - and what they can do to help support new Veteran employees in your organization.

There are a number of new studies indicating that Veteran mentorships in the workplace are a promising practice for employment and retention. In fact, in 2007, the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) convened various experts to discuss issues related to reintegration to support employees and their dependents. A number of recommendations were identified as best practices. Both the full and an abbreviated report detailing these recommendations are available at the DMEC website.

American Corporate Partners (ACP) is a nationwide mentoring program dedicated to the transition of Veterans into the civilian workforce. If you are considering a mentoring program of your own, a downloadable mentoring handbook is available (free) from the ACP homepage.

Practice Veterans appreciation and promote a Veteran-friendly workplace

Just as many companies recognize and celebrate Black history during the month of February, or breast cancer awareness during the month of October, so too should Service Members and the families of Service Members be recognized for their service and/or the ultimate sacrifice on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. While our Veterans should be thanked and honored year round, consider special recognition of these national holidays within your organization. Consider including a workforce education initiative on issues related to Veterans and their families.

Of course, appreciating Veterans means much more than specific events during the year. Recognition as a Veteran-friendly organization should be an ongoing effort and can be accomplished by all organizations, large or small. Recognition as a Veteran-friendly organization can be accomplished. The point is to make it a purposeful focus and not a haphazard one. Consider including a Veterans hiring initiative as part of your company's overall strategy for human resources. For example, you can regularly recruit talent at military job fairs and through military job boards, and educate your recruiters and hiring managers on how to read military resumes and interview Veterans. Additionally, consider participating in the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program, supporting National Guard and Reservists. An obvious show of support can go a long way - and makes a big difference to those who have served and their families.

Recognize that military families may have different needs than civilian families

The deployment cycle impacts not only the Service Member but his or her family as well. This cycle may include one of physical, emotional, financial and other stressors and worries. Most employers probably do not know exactly how many individuals in their employ have ties to the military - including Veterans, Guardsmen and Reservists as well as spouses, parents and children of those currently deployed or in the reintegration process post-deployment. Therefore, it is important to become aware of and share resources specifically for military families.

Consider creating a military affinity group. Affinity groups are voluntary, employee-initiated groups of employees who share common interests, issues, backgrounds, etc. These groups offer an excellent venue for information and resource sharing, mentorship, guidance and networking.

Consider participating in local Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs

The Secretary of Defense initiated the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to provide information, services, referrals and proactive outreach programs to Soldiers of the National Guard and Reserve as well as their families through all phases of the deployment cycle. The goal of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is to prepare Soldiers and families for mobilization, sustain families during mobilization, and reintegrate Soldiers with their families, communities and employers upon redeployment or release from active duty.

National Guard and Reserve members have a unique challenge relative to their active duty counterparts, since many will return to full-time civilian employment following their military duties. Additionally, without the support of an active duty installation, many encounter difficulty finding or getting access to their benefits and the care that they need for any injuries, illnesses or conditions incurred as a result of their deployment. Some find it challenging to simply locate the right information or services to assist in their transition back to a peacetime environment, despite the numerous organizations whose stated purpose is to provide this service.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program was designed to fulfill this need by serving as the "integrator" to link Service Members and their families with the appropriate service based on their individual need. And for employers, the DoD Employment Initiative is a one-of-a-kind initiative designed to formalize the relationship between the DoD and the private sector. Both of these entities share the common goals of strengthening the community, supporting Reservists and Guardsmen and maintaining a strong economy.

Understand your responsibilities under USERRA

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects Service Members' reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up from the Reserve or National Guard, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation. The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) administers USERRA and you can use DOL's USERRA advisor to help you understand how USERRA impacts your business.

The National Guard and Reserve are an integral part of the U.S. military. Almost one-half of today's armed forces are members of the National Guard and Reserve. For employers with employee members of these vital components, understanding the laws associated with employment, reemployment and retention are important - as is knowing available resources to support you is fulfilling your obligations and supporting those who have served our nation.

Unlike regular active duty Service Members, those who serve in the National Guard and Reserve Component are not full-time servicemembers. They can and do have careers outside the uniform. One of the main differences between the National Guard and the Reserve Component is that the National Guard is under dual state and federal control - and generally serves at the pleasure of the Governor. This is why National Guard units are referred to by their state of origin. The Reserve Component is strictly federal and serves under the control of the Pentagon.

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) was established in 1972 as an important link between civilian employers and members of the National Guard and Reserve. The organization's employer resources are vast and include resource guides and fact sheets created specifically for employers, as well as training and assistance on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Additionally, customer service representatives are available (1-800-336-4500) from 8am to 6pm (EST) to answer employer questions directly. Or, you can find a state or local ESGR contact on their website.

Getting involved with ESGR is easy! Simply contact your local representative for more information on how you can take advantage of the following:

Bosslifts — Employers are transported, via military aircraft, to military facilities where they observe National Guard and Reserve members on duty.

Briefing with the Boss — Brings together employers, unit commanders, ESGR volunteers and community leaders to discuss issues related to service in the National Guard and Reserve.

Statement of Support Signing Ceremonies — By signing a Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve, an employer demonstrates an understanding of the importance of military service. It also sends a clear message to employees who serve in the military that they don't have to worry about their civilian jobs.