Onboarding: How to help veterans feel at home on the job

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By Robyn Grable, founder, Service to Civilian

This is the second in a three-part series on hiring veterans. In the first installment, we looked at defining job responsibilities, interviewing candidates, and offering the job. This week, we’ll look at how to successfully integrate new hires into the company — from the first day through the first several months.

An employee’s first few days are critical. This can be especially true for veterans who have recently separated or those whose previous or first civilian experience was not stellar. Organizations need to bring their new hires up to speed as soon as possible. The initial days at a new job hold huge influence over an employee’s decision to stay with the company long-term. Veterans can be more anxious during this time, as it can be a new experience for them. Onboarding will form a crucial part of an organization’s retention strategy.

A report from VetAdvisor and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families confirms concerns from many veterans’ groups that employment problems don’t end when veterans land their first civilian job. One way to address it? Effective onboarding processes.

According to Fast Company, 91 percent of first-year employees are retained if there is a formal onboarding program. Therefore, the second foundational pillar is your onboarding process.

Handbook. An employee handbook is an important communications tool. A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees and describes what they can expect from your company. Your employee handbook should include an overview of your business, mission and values, and general policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, training, performance management and disciplinary process, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and benefits such as vacation and PTO.

This is a critical component for veterans. Throughout their military careers, from day one, there are standard operating procedures, mission protocols, and documentation that tells them what is expected. Military laws are defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ manual states that the purpose of military law is “to promote justice, to assist in maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces, to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the military establishment, and thereby to strengthen the national security of the United States.” Similarly, a handbook sets the purpose, culture, expectations, and efficiencies of a civilian organization. 

Welcome Orientation. The first-day experience sets the tone. When veterans/new employees arrive at work on their first day, they should instantly be made to feel a part of your team. They should be celebrated and feel the warmth and appreciation of your employees and management. This launches the way for them to be glad they decided to spend a big part of their life working with your company. Additionally, they should hear from their manager, mentor, and HR at regular intervals to identify their needs and reinforce the company’s culture and values, over the course of the first year of their employment and beyond.

Managers and supervisors who intersect with the veteran should understand the new employee’s primary job duties and responsibilities starting on day one. When everyone on the team knows what a new hire’s job will entail, existing employees are better equipped to share pertinent information and the veteran is less likely to fear he’s made a bad decision. In turn, veterans who understand exactly what tasks they will handle are empowered to hone in on the most important details of their training, and they are better equipped to ask questions that will prepare them to jump into their job duties. 

Training Plans. Onboarding is an ongoing process that takes place over months, even up to a year. Frequent follow-up is critical if you want your new hire to retain knowledge and skills. Veterans are used to daily training and frequent follow-ups to ensure understanding. To that end, assign a mentor who can perform check-ins and review the new hire’s work. A mentor should be the go-to person for any questions the new hire has. Often, without a mentor, a new hire may feel hesitant to ask questions. Gratitude, check-ins, and making people know their contributions matter are all great ways to ensure your new hires feel seen, heard, and accountable.

Taking time to train your employees is a valuable investment in the future of your business. By including training in the onboarding process, your employees will become more fully engaged and understand how to use their skills to best benefit your company. Employers who spend time on training also get training’s indirect benefit: employees who feel like they’re valuable and capable of doing more for your organization.

Employers need to go beyond, “Welcome, here’s your handbook.” For veterans, the onboarding process gets them introduced to many members of the organization, as senior leaders, managers, and other employees all lend a hand to make veterans/new hires feel welcome and bring them up to speed.

Next month, we will cover the performance process. Hiring and onboarding great employees — veterans — must be followed by accountability. To learn more about hiring veterans or to create a veterans program at your company, call 864-580-6289 or email info@servicetocivilian.com.

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