Noah Nordheimer, Founder & CEO of APN, a mind-body health company.
In 2021, about 19 million people identified as U.S. veterans, each with the skills and training that can help address talent shortages in the American workforce and fill critical business roles. Yet 55% of veterans said employment is a “top transition challenge,” according to a 2018 report by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation.
From my perspective, companies and business leaders can provide more support to veterans, especially considering the various skill sets they can bring to civilian industries. Many veterans struggle with mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and without proper support, they can endure an enormous strain that impacts their families, civilian work responsibilities and futures.
After exiting the military, veterans shouldn’t have to worry about finding or holding a job. Still, 2022 research by my company (via Forbes)—which provides rehab programs for military veterans—found that around seven in 10 veterans cite mental health struggles as a barrier to consistent employment, more than one in five (21%) have no drive to find a job, and nearly one in five (17%) are currently unemployed. Employment instability has drastic consequences and can be a vicious cycle.
Mental health is not an isolated issue. When someone struggles with their mental health, every relationship may be impacted, whether professional or personal. Unfortunately, many veterans can’t envision a way forward, as nearly half of the respondents to our survey also said they don’t believe their mental health will improve within the next year. Stigma and difficulties navigating the system further solidify this belief; one in four veterans don’t know where to begin to take care of their mental health, and one in four say their family and friends will judge them if they seek help.
Even though many veterans can’t imagine a path forward, I believe there are actionable steps organizations can take to help support veterans in the workplace and improve their employment rates. It all starts with providing the necessary skills for success. Professional success gives veterans a means to survive financially. Business leaders’ openness and willingness to provide veteran support are essential factors that can help further ground veterans during the transition into civilian life.
Here are four concrete steps companies or leaders can take to support veterans in the workplace:
1. Share which resources are available.
Think about health insurance and other benefits. What resources are available to your employees seeking mental or physical health treatment? Ensure these resources are not only available but also easy to access and use without negative repercussions or judgment. This can help combat the challenge of not knowing where to begin when seeking treatment and ensure veterans and other employees can find the mental healthcare they need. Generous health benefits are an investment into your employees’ overall wellness, productivity and happiness, and research has found that happy employees are more productive.
2. Actively combat stigmas in the workplace.
Make sure your employees know you value their health and well-being as a company, not just through words but also through your actions. Check in with your employees, create a strong workplace support system and cultivate a positive and supportive company culture. As leaders, we must inform ourselves about the challenges facing veterans and do what we can to remove those obstacles. Some might avoid asking for help or communicating their needs out of fear of being fired, ruining their relationships, etc. The workplace must be a safe place to openly work on mental health.
3. Support training and upskilling.
Many veterans receive years of specialized training during their service. Although these skills are critical in military roles, it’s not always obvious how to repackage these skills and make them immediately transferable. Programs that help veterans and civilians find alignment can help. Stay open-minded and provide training programs to ease the transition and support the transfer of skills. From my perspective, an easier and more effective transition into the workforce can help lead to long-term happiness and value.
4. Start an affinity group.
Many companies have different employee resource groups to help create a sense of community, foster diversity and make the workplace more welcoming. Employers can create a veterans’ affinity group as a safe space for veterans to bond, share and feel supported, especially if that company employs a large number of former service members.
As leaders, it’s important to prioritize and destigmatize your employees’ mental health concerns and needs, especially for at-risk populations. It’s not just about improving the bottom line but also about giving veterans real support. Businesses can provide the commitment, care and understanding necessary for veterans to thrive in the workplace.
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