By PETER ROUSMANIERE, an expert on the workers' compensation industry
The more companies work to keep their employees serving in the military connected with the home office while on duty, the easier it will be for soldiers when the time comes to return to the quiet world of cubicles and glass offices.
With that in mind, San Antonio, Texas-based USAA has developed deployment support groups made up of spouses of employees deployed overseas and spouses of employees who've returned from deployment.
"Once they go out on leave, we keep them connected," said Cheryl Pasa, director of time-off work programs for USAA, a big insurer that sells policies to military households.
USAA has instituted a pen-pal program in which employee volunteers write once or twice a month, usually via e-mail, said Pasa. USAA, with 22,000 employees, has had about 100 employees deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan
When employees comes back from military duties, the No. 1 commodity their employers can afford them is time--time to heal, time to make the successful transition back to civilian life, time to decompress with their families, said Pasa,
"For those gone in excess of one year, they are given at least two to four weeks to rest and recovery, and then more to adjust to their family life," said Pasa, who works with colleague Ronald Diehl. Diehl, a West Point graduate, works with many veterans in the company's ranks.
Pasa estimates a "ramp time" of six to eight weeks for employees in highly technical jobs or jobs that require lots of training. Others can hit the ground sooner if they have been away for a short period.
Employees who want to return to work within a week of leaving their military duties are encouraged to take at least twice that much time before coming back to the office, said Pasa.
"Decompression time," the time between coming back from war and the time workplace warriors step into their corporate job, is critical. Rough edges that might be acceptable on the battlefield are not acceptable behavior in the corporate setting.
"It is when you get back in the civilian environment that you can't smack someone in the head. You got to maintain full control of your emotions and stay on a professional level," said Marine Chief Warrant Officer Jim Flaherty, who recently came back from Iraq in early 2008 after two tours of duty.
Pasa and her colleagues start planning an employee's return some 40 days before a unit is scheduled for demobilization, she said.
"Our intent is to make the employee feel valued, and it also reinforces among our other employees our mission to our clients," she said.
September 1, 2009
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