Hiring Veterans Is Important, But Retaining Them Is The Real Key

On this Veteran's Day, consider these steps to ensure your company is giving the veterans you've hired the tools they need to succeed.

Hiring military veterans seems like an obvious choice for business leaders. With years of specialized training, the ability to multitask and work diligently under pressure, along with ample experience in large and hierarchical organizations, veterans are positioned to thrive as employees. Additionally, many businesses are poised to benefit from tax credits when hiring veterans.

Perhaps the most critical component to consider is having a corporate culture and environment that retains the veterans you hire and allows them to flourish. According to the 2018 Department of Labor Employer Guide to Hiring Veterans, “Veterans are extremely loyal to an organization. What is good for your Veteran population is also good for any employee. However, if the environment is not conducive to a Veteran they tend to leave an organization quicker than their non-Veteran counterparts.”

Our company, Hunt Military Communities, is a nationally recognized leader within the Department of Defense’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) Program. We are the largest owner of military housing in the nation, offering services to more than 165,000 residents in over 52,000 homes on Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army installations throughout the country. We have a unique insight into military communities, nurturing a corporate culture and employing best practices to ensure our colleagues who are veterans have long and successful careers at Hunt.

As it stands, several hundred of my colleagues at Hunt are veterans. Over 50% of our employees have a direct military connection or are veterans themselves.

With our business so closely intertwined with the military in many ways, we have found that there are several steps to help ensure that veterans in our organization not only remain as Hunt employees, but they stay with us for many years, and in many cases, help us to recruit more veterans.

Veteran Outreach

Outreach to veterans and military families is a key component of our talent acquisition efforts.  In addition to typical advertising and sourcing strategies, we have discovered that there are better avenues to attract veterans. Hunt actively participates in veteran career fairs such as those sponsored by Recruitmilitary.com. These career fairs give us access to active duty service members soon to leave the military and to veterans searching for career choices in the civilian sector.

Partnering with the military to support service members preparing to enter the civilian workforce is another great way to reach the veteran community. Hunt has effectively worked with Military One Source, a program through the DOD working with military installations to support service members transitioning to the civilian workforce. Finally, advertising to military families has been a prosperous recruiting activity providing Hunt with valued members for our workforce.

We have found that service members, veterans and their families often search through job advertisements using the search word “military.” By developing our job posts on social media and other traditional job boards so that “military” is a keyword search we find we are more successful in reaching veterans and their family members.

Clear job expectations

Veterans are familiar with operating in a hierarchical environment with a clear, established leader and chain of command. While today’s workforce often de-emphasizes the role of a central leader, increasingly allowing employees to work autonomously, many veterans are used to a clearly defined set of responsibilities.

Not to say that veterans will fail to adapt, but it is important for larger, bureaucratic organizations to initially create clearly defined tasks and goals for new hires who are veterans. Our company benefits from many current employees who are themselves veterans. More established employees can act as de facto mentors in helping other veterans to acclimate.

Still, we anticipate a learning curve as veterans transition into the private sector. Anticipating that, it is critical to retention that we create clearly defined objectives and allow for other veterans to act as mentors. The initial guidance generally pays large dividends, as veterans tend to be loyal employees.

In 2019 Blue Star Families released data from one of the largest surveys of active duty and veteran families, asking more than 10,000 respondents questions about their lifestyles and core concerns. According to the data, financial worries ranked as the number one “stressor” for veterans. Further, the study found that finding employment early in the transition strongly benefits community connections and long-term stability and success. Within our organization, Hunt has found that by providing clear expectations to veterans, we can replace these stresses, improve our local communities and reap major long-term productivity gains.

Include veterans’ families

Current and former military spouses face challenges that non-military families rarely think about. According to Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, “almost half of transitioned service members said that getting socialized to civilian culture was a top transitional challenge.”

Most veterans’ families are used to close contact with other military families. When a family member leaves the military, it is often difficult to recreate these close bonds outside of work with their coworkers in the private sector. The informal support networks available in the military to spouses and family members may still exist to support veterans through social media, but often in a diminished capacity, as these networks may lack the physical closeness and the sense of community inherent to military housing.

For companies looking to hire veterans, it is important to remember that not only are these employees looking to buy into your organization’s culture, but they are generally wondering how their family life will be impacted.

Beyond mentorship programs between veterans and providing resources for veteran support groups in your company, many veterans will look to work for a company that holds events where families are welcome. They will also pay close attention to how your organization recognizes Veterans Day and other holidays and occasions that hold special significance in the veteran community.

Partner with organizations that benefit veterans and military families.

Similar to what many conventional job candidates will consider, veterans will often evaluate private sector opportunities based on how the positions fit into their skill sets, professional goals, and family life. More so than conventional job candidates, veterans will also consider the values espoused by the organization.

According to the Blue Star Families’ survey, military and veteran spouse respondents were significantly less connected to and had a significantly lower sense of belonging within their military and local civilian communities out of all groups surveyed. Addressing these concerns and fostering community ties must be an important part of ensuring veterans feel welcomed and valued by their employer.

Most large employers will already have a corporate social responsibility focus. Allocating resources to charities and partnerships that benefit veterans is a measurable and impactful way of demonstrating to veteran employees that the organization values their prior service.

For example, our Hunt Heroes Foundation (HHF) is a non-profit organization that focuses its efforts on supporting active duty military personnel who live in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities where Hunt employees live and work.

While the HHF is focused on providing resources for active duty military members and families, it further demonstrates our commitment to give back to those who serve by funding projects that address community challenges in the areas of health, education, housing and overall community support.

Also as part of the HHF, we partner with wear blue: run to remember and Stop Soldier Suicide. These organizations have a significant impact on the veteran community. We strive to make sure our charitable partners align with the interests of both active duty service members and the veteran population. Beyond Hunt Heroes Foundation, our employees participate in a range of charities, partnerships, and functions that serve to benefit military veterans and their families.

For companies that may not have their own foundation but are looking to partner with organizations, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families is an excellent source of information and a resource that employers can refer to when looking to engage in CSR endeavors related to veterans and veteran-friendly causes.

While not all private employers can enjoy the unique benefits of a staff comprised of several hundred veterans, the lessons we have learned by listening to our veteran employees have served us well in retaining them. Veterans bring an incredible skillset to the private sector, and as individuals who have served our country, they deserve the tools to not only stay on as employees, but to thrive as leaders in the business community.

John Ehle
John Ehle is President of Hunt Military Communities (HMC), the largest military housing owner in the country, with approximately 52,000 existing homes in 49 military communities on Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army installations throughout the country. Hunt has built more than 70,000 military homes, totaling more than $9 billion in construction and development.