Building a Veteran Onboarding Program

In the last five to 10 years, employers have made strides in veteran hiring. However, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to retaining veteran hires. To help accomplish this, employers should develop a strong veteran onboarding program.

Organizations of all sizes have adopted veteran hiring programs and increased outreach to veteran and military spouse candidates. In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed the importance of placing veterans in jobs that match their unique skill sets and outlined 13 best practices to hire veterans. However, the problem of low retention rates for veteran employees persists. According to a survey by VetAdvisors, 80 percent of veterans leave their first civilian job within the first two years.

While a veteran hiring program is a strong first step, employers also need to focus on everything that follows an offer letter. A successful veteran onboarding program will ensure veteran employees understand the policies, procedures and culture of their new workplace while making them feel included and welcomed in the civilian work environment.

Culture Shock

While the average age of most U.S. military recruits is getting older, according to USA Today, the average age for enlistment is still about 21-years-old. This means that for many veterans, the military is the only employer they’ve had in their adult lives. The military also has an incredibly strong culture which means transitioning to the civilian workforce can be a type of culture shock.

Military onboarding is basic training, and the culture it instills is quite different than most civilian employers. As this veteran author writes, military culture emphasizes heritage, has symbols, traditions and rituals that mark rites of passage and embraces conformity and comfort in the familiar. This contrasts significantly with employers who focus on innovation, progressive growth and individual identity. As a veteran employee starts a civilian job, it’s important to communicate the organization’s cultural norms, and civilian employees should have some understanding of military culture.

Corporate Basic Training

While civilian onboarding programs are a far cry from military basic training, it is important for employers to build veteran-specific onboarding programs to acquaint new hires with their new workplace. The Harvard Business Review recommends a customized workshop detailing how to navigate the organization that includes “a specific section on understanding terminology, acronyms, and jargon.” Additionally, this onboarding program should spell out written and unwritten rules, and it should outline basic cultural norms within the specific workplace. This should cover things as big as career paths and expectations for professional development and as small as where people normally eat lunch.

Military basic training also instills its own values and sense of identity and purpose for veterans. In the U.S. Military’s Oath of Enlistment, the goal “to support and defend the constitution of the United States,” is clear and well understood. When building a veteran onboarding program, it’s important to dig into and share your organization’s mission, vision, values and goals.

Train the Entire Team

Veterans are not the only ones who benefit from training. The Harvard Business Review recommends extending training to all managers, recruiters and leaders about military culture and language. Veterans cannot be the only ones expected to adapt. Civilian employees should develop an understanding of military culture, and they should be able to anticipate where they may run into communication gaps with their veteran colleagues.

Current veteran employees and military spouses on staff can help build this type of program. This type of education is important for recruiters and hiring managers during the hiring process, but all employees should have some understanding of the skills and strengths that military members develop. This not only improves communication within a team, but it can also improve business outcomes as managers are able to assign tasks and projects that take advantage of skills like decision making, agility and collaboration that many veterans learn in their military training.

Connect Veterans with Each Other

To make the transition into civilian work more seamless, employers should find ways to connect veterans throughout the organization. One way to do this is by creating a veteran affinity group. An affinity group is a voluntary, employee-driven group of people with a common interest or goal. A veteran affinity group is an opportunity for veterans across a workplace to connect and support each other. According to the VA, a veteran affinity group provides a comfort zone for new veteran hires, increases camaraderie, increases morale and helps build an organization’s external reputation through the group’s involvement in community veteran organizations. Current veteran employees with strong leadership skills can help build a veteran affinity group.

In some organizations, developing a veteran mentorship program can also benefit new hires. In a veteran mentorship program, current veteran employees can volunteer to partner with new veteran hires to offer support, answer questions and provide resources. This can be especially important during a new employee’s first few weeks with the company, as the new employee will have someone to turn to who understands what it is like to transition to civilian work. A veteran mentor can also help new veteran employees get involved in the organization’s veteran affinity group. In a small organization with few veteran employees, military spouses or employees who have family members in the military can also serve in a mentorship role.

Connect the Entire Team

While it is important for veterans throughout an organization to connect with each other, it is important to avoid an us-versus-them mentality. As with any new hire, team meetings or lunches can increase collaboration and make team members feel included. Managers should also check in frequently. According to Military.com, many veterans are “trained to perform specific tasks that work in tandem with the work and roles of others.” Setting frequent meetings to check in with veteran employees can show that managers are available and eager to assist with the transition.

Building a strong veteran onboarding program is important to ensure that veteran hiring efforts are successful by making new hires feel invested in their new position and team.

Post by Nicole Fuqua