Supporting Veterans in the Workplace — Not Just on Veterans Day, but Year-Round

military and businessman handshake

In this article, ADP's Harris Morris explores several ways organizations can capture the benefits of hiring veterans and support veterans in the workforce year-round.

It's one thing to champion diversity in the workplace. It's another thing entirely to embrace a diverse workforce and actively work to create an environment where individuals with different backgrounds can thrive and feel belonging. For the 200,000 men and women who leave the military every year and begin the exciting transition into the corporate world, that gap can make the move seem daunting — and have a significant impact on their success in their new careers.

Every Veteran's Day, organizations have an opportunity to assess how far they've come in creating an inclusive environment for veterans and identify areas for growth. But support for veterans, or the benefits of hiring veterans, should not be just a once-a-year kind of initiative. In this rich interview with ADP's Senior Director of Veteran Initiatives, Harris Morris, we explore several ways organizations can support veterans year-round:

Q. Why does the veteran demographic stand out as such an attractive opportunity for organizations to recruit the talent they need to be competitive?

Morris: Veterans are good for corporate America because they come into the workforce with the right thinking. No matter their age, demographics, or experience level in the military — and there's an incredible breadth of diversity in the military to start with — veterans have extensive reinforcement of important concepts like resilience, leadership, accountability and goal setting. It's a framework that directly applies to the way we work in a corporate setting – it's just a different terminology that both veterans and hiring managers need to learn.

Q. Why do organizations so often struggle to provide the right kind of support for their veteran workforce?

Morris: The simple answer is that even though there's a lot of information available about the benefits of hiring veterans, there's often still a lot of unconscious bias around veterans in the corporate world. We can fall into a lot of negative assumptions about the needs of a veteran employee without fully understanding the valuable transferable skills they bring into the workforce.

Q. Could you elaborate on some of the important overlaps you see between leadership in the military and leadership in the world of business?

Morris: When I explain the transferable skills that exist between the military world and the business world, I love to reference the nine principles of war and how they actually apply to the corporate world.

Because really, a commander's intent and a business leader's intent are the same thing. They start with a vision that begets a plan, they focus on using resources and talent wisely, and following directions and taking responsibility along the way.

The breakdown comes when you ask a hiring manager to interpret those skills into workforce equivalency — it's hard to do, and that insight more often than not must come from the candidate being interviewed. For instance, a Veteran candidate could say they have experience as a squad leader; that's the equivalent of a first-line supervisor or team leader in the corporate world.

*See additional information and chart at the end of this article.

Q. What can organizations do to support veterans all year round?

Morris: At ADP, we work very hard to get support for veterans right. There are three main initiatives that we've found to be the most effective, and they're also very easy to keep up and running year-round so that Veteran's Day isn't the only day we're providing support to this important demographic.

First, there's Military Strong & Allies, ADP's internal veteran business resource group (BRG). We make sure to have an inclusive title and mission statement, making it clear that the group offers support for all kinds of military experiences, from active duty veterans to national guard and reservists, to military spouses.

The BRG offers a supportive network for veterans transitioning out of the military and building their careers in the corporate world. We sponsor a mentoring program that helps veterans acclimate to the nuances of their changing situations that they would otherwise have to figure out alone.

Our mentors help veterans look for the right opportunities that will be a good fit for their skills and experience. This is critical in driving awareness and showing veterans all of the possibilities that a career in the corporate world can hold for them: Not in spite of their experience in the military, but because of it.

We also put a lot of effort into making sure our company culture and benefits are supportive and inclusive of veterans. To kick off each year, we establish a calendar of events that will highlight common challenges of veterans, bringing different groups together to talk and learn from each other, such as military spouses, national guard and reservists, and executives. We also make sure it's very clear how this population can connect with numerous free benefits, from free credentialing to scholarships, and more — anything we can do to help veterans increase the tools they have in their toolbox.

Q. How often do you see support for veterans expand to empower other underrepresented demographics?

Morris: Inclusive hiring and workplace policies have substantial ripple effects on underrepresented employees. After all, Veterans are a cross section of society and are therefore a diverse group in themselves. Veterans include all the groups which companies strive to advance. So, hiring veterans directly is of course a great way to capture competitive talent — but consider the military spouse, who often must relocate every 3-5 years due to changing military orders. When an organization supports work models like remote work and allows military spouses to continue to invest in their careers and achieve great things with their employer's support, it can have a powerful effect on the spouses' career longevity, the veteran's quality of life, and the overall success of the family unit. And that's the kind of positive change we're after.

Q. What advice do you have for an organization that wants to increase its commitment to supporting veterans in the workforce?

Morris: When someone leaves the military, everything changes: what you wear, where you live, and everything about the job you do. You really have to have walked in the shoes of a veteran to help someone with this transition and understand how significant an event it is. For organizations, that means finding veterans who can help lead this effort, identifying allies in the form of employees with ties to the military, and coming together to advance the interests of that group. Help set veterans up for success by connecting them with a mentor and providing consistent and direct feedback.

You'll also want to do what you can to make it easier for a veteran to come into your organization in the first place. Educate your hiring managers and recruiters to better understand the transferable skills that veterans bring to the workforce. Those skills and experience may not be readily identifiable from a veteran's resumé. (I suggest recruiters speak with all Veteran applicants to help overcome any weaknesses which a Veteran's resumé may have.) It important to note that veterans do not use resumés to move from job to job within the military, so resumé development is usually a new skill set they learn as they prepare to enter the civilian workforce.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Launch this on-demand webcast anytime: How to Diversify and Strengthen Your Workforce and Leadership Team with Military Veterans. Learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion resources to help your organization do and be its best.

*Additional information:

Commander's Intent: A concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired end state that serves as the initial impetus for the planning process. It may also include the commander's assessment of the adversary commander's intent and an assessment of where and how much risk is acceptable during the operation.

Business Leader's Intent: A concise expression of the purpose of the business initiative and the desired end state that serves as the initial input/guidance for project/program planning. It may also include the business leader's assessment of the competition's strengths and opportunities and an assessment of risk for the business initiative.

9 principals of war and work

9 Principals of War source: FM (Field Manual) 3-0, June 2001