As a business leader, I have been asked many times how hard is it managing veteran employees. This question does not mean employees that have been with a company for 25+ years, rather it is referring to those that took the oath to protect the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. As a veteran, I have been asked about my expectations of a leader/manager and how they can best lead/manage me. Simply put, the management of veteran employees can be the easiest thing you will ever undertake. There have been situations where veterans are considered “too intense” or “too direct.” That is what we learned in basic training, in our individual advanced training, and when we got to our specific locations. We learned to go head first, full-throttle into whatever it is we are doing. In the Army, we were taught seven values that should define how we lived our lives: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service,
honor, integrity, and personal courage. When veterans are given a task, we feel it is our duty to get it done, and typically we have the honor and integrity to see it through to the end. When managing veteran employees, it is important to remember that the intensity shown does not necessarily reflect a bad mood or bad temper. Instead, that intensity is derived from the focus to accomplish and achieve that which was set out to complete. Unfortunately, there is the stigma that veterans are mentally ill and unstable, or they are riddled with PTSD, or they have many physical injuries that will keep them from performing to the best of their abilities. PTSD has been around for decades and has worn many different titles: shell shock, battle fatigue, combat fatigue, or gross stress reaction. However, it is wise to remember that PTSD does not affect only military members. Rape or sexual abuse victims have reported PTSD, first responders have reported PTSD, even hospital clinicians have reported PTSD. Therefore, to generalize PTSD as a veteran-centric condition adds to the negative stigma. The reality is that not all veterans suffer from the effects of PTSD. They may have that in their medical jacket, but they have learned coping mechanisms or have received help for their condition. Unfortunately, there are many that do not seek help, but that number is beginning to decrease.
The reality to all of this is that a veteran can be one of the greatest assets to an organization. I personally know some veterans that will work a 15 hour day to ensure the work is done to standard. A common phrase heard amongst veteran-turned-civilian employees is that "we work to standard, not to time." While this is all fine and well for a salaried employee, managing hourly veteran employees can be a challenge. Therefore, the best way to manage or lead a veteran employee is to sit and talk to them. Explain your expectations in the clearest and most distinct way you possibly can. Ask them what their expectations are for you and for the job. Then talk to them and try to gain an understanding of how they process information. Keep in mind, they might not always want to share. Be mindful of this as you are speaking with them. Ultimately, veteran employees are easy to manage when the communication between you and them is open, clear, and honest.