While we have a tragic divide in the political world, we seem united on at least one issue: we thankfully express support for our Veterans. On this day, we make a point to thank Veterans for their service.
That’s a great start. But it is by no means enough.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Morton, Director of Social Engagement for SHRM. Retiring as a Lieutenant Coronel after 21 years of service in the army, including a tour of duty in Iraq that resulted in his becoming disabled, Andrew shared with me his thoughts as to how we as employers sometimes, without bad intent, fall short where our veterans are concerned. All quotes are comments made by Andrew in the course of our open discussion.
Andrew made clear at the outset that “he did not want anyone feeling sorry for him.” He mentioned what he has faced in the past only in terms of how it has given him “the strength and experience to face challenges now.”
This led us to a discussion of how often employers talk about giving back to veterans. Yes, there is, I believe, a moral imperative.
But, as Andrew emphasized, the business imperative is as strong as the moral imperative. “Hiring veterans makes good business sense.” Veterans have valuable skills. One of them: “the ability to manage people and projects under enormous stress.”
Here’s where the law can have unintended adverse consequences. And, by the law, I mean the myriad laws that prevent discrimination based on military service.
Too often in HR we don’t even ask applicants about their military skills and experience. Yes, there is some risk that a rejected applicant could say you denied him or her the job based on the questions that you asked.
But not asking about skills and experienced acquired in the military could be seen as bias, too. It deprives those with military backgrounds with a solicited opportunity to showcase how their skills and experiences in the military world could translate in the corporate world.
So ask, but thoughtfully. What matters is skill and experience, not what you may find fascinating (or even horrifying.)
While Andrew was clear that he was not speaking for all Veterans, he emphasized that generally Veterans are called to serve a “larger purpose.” How do you answer that “calling” at work?
“Let them understand the “why” of what you are asking of them.” As Andrew spoke, I thought: while this may be particularly important to Vets, it is not unique to them so that what we do to engage our Veterans serves the general good.
So, when we celebrate Veterans’ day, it’s more than fine to thank Veterans for their service. But don’t stop there.
Consider giving them a chance to serve again. For example, include them in your efforts to help others less fortunate in the community, if not this year, then next year. You honor them by acknowledging their mission mindset and capabilities to get things done.
And, don’t limit your efforts to one day. For me, that is more offensive than doing nothing at all.
Think strategically on how you can tap into this reservoir of talent throughout the year. “Focus on not only recruitment but also retention.”
And, when you thank a Veteran, be prepared to listen as to what she or he may want to share. Listening may be the best way you, as an individual, can say thank you.
On a professional level, I am proud that SHRM is on the forefront of helping veterans transition back into civilian life. We are all the better for it.
On a personal level, I thank you, Andrew, for our conversation. Your soul touched mine.