Recruiting, Retaining and Supporting Armed Forces Veterans in the Workplace

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According to the latest government statistics, there are over two million Armed Forces veterans in the UK and around 13,000 individuals who leave the armed forces every year.

The statistics show that the majority of those leaving the services are of working age, actively seeking new employment opportunities. Despite this, research shows that some veterans find it difficult to transition into civilian life and often struggle to find and retain new employment.

Those already employing veterans have reported that they can be a highly valuable asset, as they benefit from a diverse range of skills and attributes which are of high value in the workplace, including strong work ethic, problem solving, leadership, communication and analytical skills.

Many employers are also unaware that when hiring veterans in their first civilian position after service, employers benefit from a National Insurance Contribution (NIC) holiday, providing them with relief from secondary NICs for the first twelve months of the veteran’s employment.

In spite of these benefits, employers often struggle to recruit and retain veterans in their workforce. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that a survey conducted by NHS England found that over half of veterans, active military personnel and associated representatives reported currently having, or having had, a mental health condition (52%) or a physical health condition (54%). Moreover, almost two-thirds of respondents (60%) said that they found it difficult to ask for help with mental health issues, making it challenging for employers to identify issues and provide support.

Recruiting veterans

Attracting candidates

Recognising the unique circumstances of veterans, in October 2023, the Government published “An Employer’s Guide to Hiring Veterans.” This includes recommendations of best practice when hiring veterans and is a good starting point for any employer who is looking to attract veterans to their business.

In line with the recommendations in this guide, a number of large UK employers now offer tailored recruitment programmes for veterans. For smaller businesses, engaging with the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) is a good first step. CTP provides support to individuals leaving service and connects employers to those looking for work, including by advertising vacancies in a way that is accessible and understandable to service users.

Applications and interviews

As well as taking steps to attract applications, employers should also consider reviewing their recruitment processes to ensure that they remain accessible to veterans. For example, employers should avoid using industry-specific language which veterans may be unfamiliar with and the interview process should allow veterans to speak openly about their skills and strengths so that employers can consider transferrable skills.

Where an employer has former military personnel within its organisation already, consulting with them may be helpful. Specific training or guidance for hiring managers may also help to ensure that recruitment processes do not inadvertently exclude veterans from applying for roles, or from demonstrating their true qualities within their applications or interviews.

Potential legal pitfalls

A recruitment campaign targeted at veterans can be useful. However, employers should remain conscious of their duty to operate recruitment practices in a non-discriminatory way. For example, it is possible that an employer which applied a policy of recruiting veterans ahead of other more suitable candidates may be committing sex or race discrimination given that most veterans are white males. Employers need to take a balanced approach.

Employers should also be mindful that more than half of veterans will be affected by a physical or mental health condition, which amount to a “disability” for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. To avoid claims for disability discrimination, employers will need to consider whether any adjustments should be made to the recruitment process to enable the individual to effectively participate. Employers must also ensure that they do not base recruitment decisions on the fact that a candidate has a particular medical condition.

Retaining and supporting veterans in the workplace

Once an employer has recruited a veteran into their workforce, they should then turn their mind as to how they can best support their wellbeing alongside their career development. This minimises the risk of associated problems – such as sickness and absenteeism – and maximises the prospects of retention.

It is crucial that employers foster a supportive workplace environment.  In this regard, employers should consider:

  1. Increasing awareness. All staff should be aware of the potential issues which veterans may be navigating and should seek to take an empathetic approach towards this. Specific training and guidance for line managers and HR staff may help to develop and reaffirm this understanding.
  2. Mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is an ideal way to help veterans transition into civilian life whilst simultaneously providing them with workplace support and guidance.
  3. Support network. A strong internal support network such as a peer network can also go a long way to helping veterans transition into the civilian workplace.
  4. Mental health resources. Employers should ensure that appropriate mental health assistance is always available, for example, through an employee assistance programme or counselling services. A confidential and external resource such as this may be particularly beneficial given the number of veterans who say that they find it difficult to ask for mental health support.

Handling issues

In the event that issues do arise, it is important that these are handled compassionately, sensitively and proportionately.

Sickness absence

In particular, veterans suffering from mental and/or physical health conditions may be at an increased risk of sickness-related absences. In these circumstances, employers should adopt an understanding approach and consider whether they can make any relevant adjustments and whether an Occupational Health referral might be appropriate.

In cases of persistent or prolonged sickness absence, employers should meet and consult with the employee before making any decisions and consider whether obtaining medical evidence may help to establish the extent of the issue and what support can be provided.

In some circumstances, a veteran employee may benefit from a longer-term flexible working arrangement, in which case employers should consider to what extent they are able to facilitate such an arrangement without compromising their own business operations.

Alcohol and drugs

Research also shows that veterans are much more likely to struggle with substance dependency compared to the rest of the workforce. Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans, found that as many as 43% of veterans had a problem with alcohol misuse.

To help combat this issue, employers should treat substance dependency in a similar way to any other illnesses and take a sympathetic approach by encouraging individuals to seek specialist help and offering their support. This increases the chances of the employee making a recovery and returning to their full duties as soon as possible.

However, this is only possible where the employee’s dependency is identified and addressed. All staff, particularly line managers, should be alert to apparent changes in a veteran employee’s performance or behaviour and should be encouraged to report their concerns. A substance misuse policy, which reflects the employer’s commitment to supporting those suffering from substance dependency issues, may help encourage self-reporting and reporting of others.

Summary

Overall, veterans can be a highly valuable asset to any business. However, in order to get the very best out of veterans during the recruitment process and in the workplace, employers must be alive to the challenges which they may face. Whilst it is not appropriate to stereotype all veterans as facing challenges in adapting to civilian life, where a veteran’s mental and/or physical health conditions may pose issues for an individual, the employer should seek to resolve these through an understanding and compassionate approach, seeking external advice and support where appropriate. To this end, employers should ensure that all staff understand the unique sensitivities of veterans and are able to identify when they require support and how to provide it, and that their training and policies reflect this approach.

This article can also be found on WorkPlace Wellbeing.

Disclaimer: General Information Provided Only
Please note that the contents of this article are intended solely for general information purposes and should not be considered as legal advice. We cannot be held responsible for any loss resulting from actions or inactions taken based on this article.

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