Workplace cultures that focus on employees, flexibility and inclusivity are well on their way to supporting a small but mighty portion of the employee population: military veterans and their spouses.
“From an employer perspective, it’s not about creating new programs but an inclusive workplace for people with diverse backgrounds and experiences that can bring that richness of diversity to the workplace,” says Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce foundation that advocates for the hiring of service members and their spouses. “As companies, it’s about harnessing the unique aspects veterans bring that the company can benefit from their experience and let those veterans shine.”
But some specific policies and initiatives go the extra mile, as seen at large organizations like Lockheed Martin, Prudential and Amazon. All have solid reputations and awards recognition for supporting veterans.
Policies and practices that earn a thumbs up from veterans include:
- Employee resource groups (ERG)
- Hiring and leave policies that understand a service member’s obligations
- Robust volunteer programs that allow service members to serve their communities
- Remote work options that allow military spouses to work from home
- Understanding and valuing what service members bring to the table through their military training and experience
Hiring practices bring intersectional diversity
Prudential, a financial services company of 41,000 employees headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, has a program specifically to support and advocate for its veteran employees.
Created in 2010, the Veterans Initiative team focuses on thought leadership and breaking down barriers to employment for veterans and spouses, with three full-time employees currently led by Vice President Jim Beamesderfer.
“We’re also responsible for our philanthropic work in the military community,” says Beamesderfer. “We also do some business development work in two areas: around hiring military talent for the firm and our military financial wellness program.”
Prudential assists military service members with resume workshops and mentoring, as does Lockheed Martin and Amazon.
Lockheed Martin, the defense giant headquartered in Maryland, employs 23,000 veterans, or 20% of its employee population. In 2020, it connected with 9,000 military community members through its Handshake 2 Hire career support program. It also saw 5,000 participants in its resume workshops that same year.
The military’s inherent diversity drives an intersectional diversity in hiring veterans, who can be women, people of color and disabled.
“We’ve found such a benefit from having a program that addresses both veteran employment and diversity,” says Beamesderfer. “Finding the best talent means having that combination of a lens for veterans and military spouses, and it also does a great job of helping us with our diversity efforts.”
Amazon, headquartered in Seattle and employing 1.3 million people, has invested in military hiring and recruiting and “has hired over 125,000 veterans and military spouses over the past five years,” says Beau Higgins, a senior manager on the Military Affairs Team. “The training and leadership that help veterans thrive in the military translates well into Amazon’s culture and aligns with Amazon’s 14 leadership principles.”
The Military Affairs team is a 20-member, three-pillared program Amazon created two years ago to hire, train and retain veteran talent. In July, the company pledged to hire 100,000 more veterans and military spouses over the next three years.
Amazon has several programs aimed at this employee population, often partnering with outside advocates like Hiring Our Heroes. One such program is Military Pathways, which prepares transitioning military candidates into director and VP-level positions within Amazon. The Amazon Technical Apprenticeship program allows veterans with limited tech backgrounds to enter a tech job training pipeline.
Flexible work and leave policies are beneficial
A small percentage of employees may serve in the National Guard or Reserves, who can be called to deploy or participate in extended training at a moment’s notice. While on the surface this may seem detrimental to productivity, Hiring Our Heroes’ Eversole says otherwise.
The training and leadership experience that these service members gain from their time away from work will ultimately benefit the organizations that employ them, believes Eversole.
“What I tell companies when they hire Guard and Reserve employees is they get the best of everything,” says Eversole. “They get someone who’s contributing daily but has the incredible benefit of learning and leveraging what they’re getting from the military into their business.”
Eversole says understanding that a service member’s time away for training isn’t a vacation, but often hard work and a learning experience.
“They’re serving their country and acquiring skill sets that are valuable to the business,” says Eversole.
Prudential’s Beamesderfer echoes these statements. The company was recently awarded the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for its support of Guard and Reserve members. Beamesderfer says Prudential goes above and beyond what the law requires and offers support to employees and their family members when they’re called to serve.
Prudential ensures a single team or work group isn’t saturated with part-time service members to avoid productivity issues, but Beamesderfer says in 11 years it hasn’t been an issue.
Remote working options benefit military spouses, who often move as the military requires of their service member spouse. Working from home means they can move anywhere and grow a career, which has been difficult for this employee population for decades.
Prudential has about 50 military spouses in their employ. Beamesderfer says veterans, and even more so military spouses, have a higher retention rate than non-veteran employees.
“It’s such a value add.”
ERGs and volunteer efforts prove popular
“I think ERGs are fantastic for veterans,” says Hiring Our Heroes’ Eversole. “It gives them an opportunity to be a part of their distinct group while also thinking about how their population can benefit the company.”
Prudential’s VetNet ERG was founded in 2010 and currently has 700 members, about half veterans and spouses and half allies and supporters. Lockheed Martin has a Military Veterans business resource group.
Amazon’s Warriors@Amazon affinity group has 10,000 members.
“The mission of the ERG is to provide our members a professional network, a means in which to organize community outreach programs, to aid veterans during their transition into the Amazon workforce and to be a resource for veteran and military spouse recruiting,” says Higgins.
Eversole says another popular benefit employers can provide veterans is a robust community engagement or volunteer program.
“The desire to give back is more so ingrained with veterans and military spouses,” says Eversole. “Thinking about how we give back and integrate veterans into that service culture is important.”
Beamesderfer, a veteran himself, says Prudential supports veteran employees who instinctively want to be involved in something greater than themselves.
“With volunteer opportunities we give them means to do that,” says Beamesderfer. “Whether it’s a care package assembly event, at the USO, the VA hospital or resume reviews it gives them a sense of ‘hey, I can participate and be part of something and I feel like I can have that feeling again.’”
Amazon offers service opportunities through its Warriors@Amazon affinity group and a donation program called Goods4Good that supports veteran non-profits.
Wellness program benefits that support all employees also support specific veteran needs, like mental health strategies, EAPs and physical fitness options.
“We think about things like hard work and commitment to the mission, resiliency, and veterans and military spouses bring all those attributes to the workforce,” says Eversole. “They know how to manage and lead people, how to think about unique problems and how to work in teams to solve them. Allowing a veteran or spouse to bring that problem-solving capability to the business is a key function of how a company best leverages those unique skills for the overall good of the organization.”
“It started as a good thing to do, but what makes it sustainable, what makes it good business sense, is we’re finding incredibly good talent,” says Beamesderfer.