Like almost any jarhead, I wear my Marine Corps service proudly on my sleeve. Frequently, people stop to thank me for my service. I don’t mind it (except for the odd time when someone wants to know whether I killed someone). I usually try to quip back with something like “Well, thank you for paying taxes so I could shoot guns and fly in helicopters for free.”
Many of these encounters invariably lead into some sort of conversation about how more people should give jobs to all the hardworking men and women who decided to join the military when there was a war on. It’s a very noble idea, no doubt. But before you spring out and hire the first guy to come into your office with a crew cut, there are a few things you should know.
Incentives to hire veterans abound. Uncle Sam has offered a variety of different tax breaks to businesses who hire vets. Starbucks recently announced it would hire 10,000 new veterans, and even offered to pay for their education. You can’t swing a dead cat anymore without hitting a business advertising its willingness to hire a vet. But if there are so many opportunities, why is the unemployment rate among 18- to 24-year-old vets higher than 29 percent?
Civilian Life Takes Getting Used To
There are currently 573,000 veterans looking for work in America, according the Bureau of Labor and Statics, which is not an insignificant number of people, considering there are currently fewer people on active duty in the Army. When you realize that more than 2 million Americans deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan at some time in the past decade, your odds of getting a bona fide combat vet are fairly high.
While veterans are usually known for their strong work ethic, willingness to take on disagreeable tasks, and habit of working long hours, they are also known for other trends. It’s no secret that our marriages are failing, we can have short tempers, and we are often very blunt in conversation, all factors that can make someone a less than stellar co-worker.
I keep close contact with quite a few of my old Marine Corps friends, and my Facebook and Twitter feeds are often awash with stories of frustration and the old lament: “I wish I had never gotten out.” I’d be lying if I didn’t mention I too go home on a regular basis and gripe to my poor wife about how frustrating being a civilian can be. Although I’m not privy to the conversations, I’m sure my employer sometimes wishes I had stayed in the gun club, too.
Like buying a high-mileage used car, hiring a veteran can be a positive experience if you know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are a few small points of advice to ensure your first veteran hire doesn’t leave you stranded.
1. Tell Us Exactly What You Want
First, expectations and job responsibilities need to be crystal clear. Every job in the military, regardless of service, has a manual with specific instructions about everything a service member is expected to do or not do in his or her individual occupational specialty. As an artillery officer, I spent a great deal of time ensuring our training was tailored to the down-to-the-minute time standards the organization placed on our occupational specialty. If the military is good at one thing, it’s ensuring everyone knows what is expected.
Friction often arises, however, when civilian employers don’t provide a clear job description, or set boundaries for what is required and what is not. Not content to sit around and wait for instructions, most of us will put ourselves to work at something, even if the task turns out to be counter-productive. We came to you for a job because we wanted to work, and work hard. Make our time more productive by pointing us in the right direction.
2. Provide Clear, Honest Feedback
We like clear, honest feedback. Most of us have been called names you didn’t know existed, and we have very, very thick skin. If we’ve done something wrong, we want to know about it, and we want the chance to fix it. When the task is over, we want another one just like it, so we can prove to you that we’ve learned from our mistakes.
Nothing frustrates a veteran more than having our errors on a report passed off to the secretary to be fixed, then hearing about the mistakes second-hand from a third party in the breakroom. While confrontation may not be the best way to get things done in the office, it’s often the best way to get through to a veteran as long as it’s constructive and respectful.
3. Give Us Personal Space
Next, have some understanding when we ask for unexpected time or space. The divorce rate amongst veterans is near half of all our marriages. So odds are that if we’re still married, we’re working through something at home. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder figures are also high. Although the government contends the rate of PTSD is between 11 and 20 percent, other studies suggest reporting is extremely low, and the numbers are much higher than the Veterans Affairs’ official figures.
The bottom line is that most of us are trying to figure things out. We feel a strong sense of responsibility to our employers, but most of us came from a climate where our superiors were usually facing the same pressures. When we needed a day off to go to a medical appointment or some marriage counseling, we got it, and were willing to work twice as hard to make up for the lost time. We’re a proud bunch, and asking for special treatment is often more trouble than it’s worth. If you make an investment in our well-being, we’ll make sure our work is worth your trust.
4. Don’t Single Us Out
Finally, we don’t want to stick out. We left the service voluntarily and are trying to forge a new identity in the civilian world. We’re immensely proud of our military time, but we want to learn how to get along as productive civilians, and our new job is the biggest part of that transition. Most of us have seen something ugly, and for many of us the war is not over, as we watch our friends fall into drug and alcohol addiction or struggle with suicide.
We also don’t want your pity. We knew what we were doing when we signed on the dotted line, and if we could go back, we would do it all over again. When we stop to chat at the water cooler, we want to talk about how the new Star Wars movie was a two-hour toy advertisement or how bad the Dallas Cowboys are. Although this may sound like a giant contradiction to everything you just read, we want to be just like anybody else at the office, even if everyone knows we’re not.