It starts by understanding their perspective. Morale improves among those who continue to serve in the National Guard and Reserve when you demonstrate that you know about their world. Even if they are gone for a weekend of training and it doesn’t affect their work hours with you, your remote support and encouragement means a lot and is critical to their success.
Here are some suggestions on ways to do that from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR):
Learn more about the role of the Guard and Reserve. Attend open houses and public functions at local military units. Talk about the Guard and Reserve with military and civilian leaders in your community. Ask your veteran employees what they do and how they fit into the “big picture” of national defense.
Get to know your employees’ military commanders and supervisors. Ask them to provide you with advance notice of your employee’s annual military duty schedule.
Don’t hesitate to call your employee’s military commander or supervisor if you have a question or concern. Military leaders face some of the same challenges as employers and know that it is in everyone’s best interest to communicate and work together. You may feel hesitant or intimidated to pick up the phone—do it anyway. There are no “dumb” questions. Your genuine interest in supporting your employee will be well received. Frequently, they can offer alternatives to meet individual needs. By taking an active role in supporting your Guard and Reserve employees, you will improve the quality of life for all your employees, directly enhance the success of your organization, and provide an invaluable service to the nation.
Put your support in writing by signing a Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve. Display it prominently for all your employees and visitors to see. Request your Statement of Support online today at ESGR.mil/sos.
Examine your personnel policies to see how they accommodate and support participation in the Guard or Reserve. Do policies include provisions for military leaves of absence? Do policies ensure job opportunities and benefits equivalent to those of other employees? Your local ESGR State Committee is available to answer questions or offer suggestions. Call 800-336-4590 to speak with an ombudsman.
IDEAS FOR SUPPORT DURING DEPLOYMENT OR DRILL
You can get creative with the ways in which your employees support service members who are overseas. These unique ideas may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but to someone in a war zone, thousands of miles away, a reminder that people at home care is paramount.
Here are a few examples:
Go one step beyond letter writing. Solix Inc. sent sweet dreams to Kandahar, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s guidebook on veterans, “Support From Behind the Lines.” Employees entered a conference room to write up notes of support, but instead of pens and paper, they discovered pillowcases and pastels. Their job: to turn those blank pillowcases into “dreamscapes.” Visiting Staff Sergeant David S. Sperry explained that veterans embrace bedtime as the only chance to wear what they like and be themselves. As volunteers decorated those pillowcases with sunsets and peaceful seas, Sperry shared slides of the actual platoon members who would receive the gifts. Getting creative with the types of letters and care packages that your employees send will make a world of difference to the recipients.
Use videoconferencing to keep deployed employees connected, not only with their families, but with their department or even the whole organization if feasible.
Take pictures of what’s happening at work and send them to the deployed service member.
Support big brother/big sister style programs. Look for ways that employees could help fill the parenting role of the service member. Take a girl to a salon for a haircut or shopping at the mall if her mom is overseas. Or accompany a boy to his team’s soccer match or offer assistance with Cub Scout activities if mom or dad is away.
Create community boards in your break rooms or intranet that list needs of a military employee’s family members during a deployment—anything from lawn mowing to minor household repairs.
Throw a welcome home event upon the service member's return. Here are some ideas from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—just be sure to check first with the spouse or someone close to your veteran, who will be able to tell you if that would be OK for the returning employee.
- Schedule a one-on-one informal lunch or coffee to welcome your employee. If possible, arrange for your department director or team leader to schedule a similar personal get-together.
- Decorate your returning employee’s desk with a Welcome Home banner, signed with personal messages from each team member.
- Provide a thoughtful thank-you card signed by all team members.
- Schedule a “first-day-back breakfast,” and allow time for team members to offer personal sentiments of gratitude to the veteran.
- Hold a staff meeting to officially welcome back your returning employee, thank them for their service, and offer a small token of support.
- Plan an off-site team-building activity, such as a family picnic or bowling night.
SUPPORTING THE SPOUSE AND FAMILY
The best way to service members’ hearts—and to gain their loyalty to you as an employer—is to stay in regular contact with their families during deployments. Nothing is worse than being overseas and feeling helpless about what could be happening with a spouse or children. Knowing that an employer “has their back” provides a great sense of comfort and reassurance to service members, allowing them to fully focus on their mission.
Sometimes you don’t need to do much. A simple gesture, like a regular check-in phone call to the spouse, goes a long way. And if you call and discover something has happened—a sick child in the hospital, an automobile accident, the death of a mother-in-law, a house fire—you can muster support for the family as a company and increase your employee’s happiness with you even further.