A Heroes Welcome: Reintegration Programs Help Ease Veterans Back to Work
By MICHAEL FRADKIN, vice president, disability product management, at MetLife
The Defense Manpower Data Center reports that more than 650,000 National Guard members and reservists have been mobilized over the past six years. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 1.3 million men and women serve in active duty. The number of those leaving steady jobs to serve in the armed forces is greater than before.
As a result, it has become even more important for employers to assist veterans reintegrating into the workforce, both by creating a positive return-to-work situation at the organization and providing support programs for veterans and their families.
Though federal law requires that a service member's job remain available to him or her upon return from duty, reintegration into the workforce can be challenging. The aftereffects of service can directly impact veterans' ability to transition back into the workforce and their subsequent capabilities.
New obstacles, including military-related disabilities, health problems and mental-health issues, may require an employer to change its approach to managing performance and productivity.
For instance, U.S. Department of Defense clinicians identified that about 20 percent of active and 42 percent of reserve component soldiers required mental-health treatment after deployment.
Managers can take certain measures to ensure these veterans transition successfully. To ensure that employees feel like valued, important members of the team--and to communicate the company's commitment to each individual's success--managers should be willing to spend the time and resources on reintegration programs and actively engage with employees throughout the reintegration process.
Employee assistance programs are a key tool to help returning veterans acclimate to the workforce and remain effective employees. These programs work to aid employees in dealing with personal problems that might adversely impact their job performance, health and well-being.
According to MetLife's sixth annual Employee Benefits Trends Study, 36 percent of all companies offer EAPs to their employees (up from 25 percent in 2005), and 63 percent of companies with 500 or more employees offer the programs.
Generally, EAPs offer professional counselors who provide confidential assessment and short-term counseling to employees and their families. These programs aim to positively impact overall workplace morale, employee attendance and concentration, and an employee's ability to perform well on the job.
In addition to offering EAPs, employers can take a few other steps to ensure that veterans reintegrate into the workforce successfully:
1. Clarify policies. If it hasn't already been done, create military leave and return policies. Be sure to clarify any issues dealing with salary and income gap, as most typical salaries will vary drastically in comparison to military pay and benefits.
2. Welcome back. The human resources department should make a special effort to welcome veterans back to the workplace to help encourage a company culture where these employees are at ease.
3. Benefits. Make sure returning veterans are aware of the benefits and services available to them, and detail specifics of the EAP.
4. Manager training. Hold education and training seminars for supervisors and managers so they will be able to assist in providing a smoother transition for veterans' return to work. Educate supervisors about the typical struggles of many returning veterans, and encourage managers to talk with their employees about their homecoming.
5. Keep an eye out. Stay attuned to returning veterans. Should any returning veterans appear to have physical or mental health limitations, investigate and provide accommodations (such as handicap access, special equipment or computers, and career guidance and emotional counseling) needed for these employees.
6. Peer mentoring. Create and support a mentoring program to partner veterans in the workforce with returning civilian soldiers.
7. Stay in contact. Should current employees go on active duty, keep in contact with these workers and their families. Before the employee leaves for service, include a predeployment assessment to establish a baseline for each returning employee and their manager--especially considering an employee may not have the same manager when they return from service.
The skills, experiences and perspectives that veterans obtain while in service can be applied to their careers upon return, and the years that they spend in active duty are, in many ways, invaluable to employers.
Most veterans return from active duty with highly developed skills and traits--including leadership skills, professionalism, a sense of calm under pressure and a strong drive--that make them sought after employees in the workforce. In a volatile and unpredictable job market where retaining employees is a key concern for employers, providing returning service men and women with programs to help reintegration can be mutually beneficial to the employee and employer.
In addition to reintegration programs, overall employee benefits can play a major role in retention--almost half of employees (45 percent) say benefits are an important reason they remain at their current jobs, up from 33 percent in 2006, according to the MetLife study.
While returning veterans may face unique challenges when it comes to reintegrating into the workforce, the programs employers put into place to help through this transition--from effective EAPs to better communication and mentoring programs ? can benefit both the employer and the employee.
(Editor's note: MetLife participated in an industry-sponsored think tank organized by the Disability Management Employer Coalition to discuss the issues confronting returning veterans of war. The DMEC is an employer-based nonprofit organization that works to advance the development of integrated disability, absence and productivity management processes in all disability related employer programs. A copy of the white paper developed as a result of the think-tank, "Workplace Warriors: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration," as well as MetLife's sixth annual Employee Benefits Trends Study that was referenced in the article, can be found at www.whymetlife.com.)
October 1, 2008
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