Returning Reservists: Aiming for a Smooth Re-Entry
Monday, March 10, 2008
“Since September 11th, one and a half million of our
servicemen and women have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than
630,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves have been mobilized. Our
forces have now been in Iraq for four and one-half years—longer than our
military was engaged in World War II.”
Statement of Edward M. Kennedy
“Protecting the Employment Rights of Those Who
Protect the United States”
Committee - November 8, 2007
Your Reservist has courageously served his or her country
and he or she should be able to return to the workplace confident of receiving
a well-deserved hero’s welcome. In some cases, re-entry is a decided success. In
other cases, depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and a determined struggle to
readjust takes place.
You and your staff struggle to help, to better understand,
and try to adjust to the situation. Unfortunately, in some cases, the situation
deteriorates to the point that a workplace action occurs. According to a
November 2007 CBS News report, “Formal complaints to the Labor Department by Reservists
hit nearly 1,600 in 2005 (latest reported data)—the highest number since 1991—not
counting the thousands more cases reported each year to the Pentagon for
resolution by mediation.” With the continuing return of thousands of troops,
this number is likely to soar.
What is fair treatment for the returning soldier? For your
company? Your workforce? How can you best prepare—as a company and as a returnee—for
a positive re-entry experience?
Welcoming Back Your Soldier/Employee
Know Your Obligations. Make
sure that you understand your obligations under the Uniformed Services
Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 that covers virtually
every individual in the country who serves in or has served in the uniformed
services and applies to all employers in the public and private sectors. The
law seeks to ensure that those who serve their country can retain their
civilian employment and benefits, and can seek employment free from
discrimination because of their service. A good general resource for
information on USERRA can be found at http://www.esgr.org/userrathelaw.asp?p=43.
You should remember that changes to the law occur regularly, including as
recently as the last quarter of 2007.
Prepare for your
soldier’s return. Apprehension among all parties is
normal in this situation. Plan for a positive return event. Allow home-based
employees to voice concerns over how the return will affect their war-modified
job responsibilities. Outline how their returning colleague’s presence will
impact assignments. Stress the importance of a supportive environment as their
returning colleague readjusts. Make sure they know about and understand their
own support channels during this period of adjustment.
Brief the returning
employee. If possible, brief the returning employee prior to
his or her first day regarding changes within the company during their absence.
Updates should include company business strategy, personnel and policy changes,
as well as job assignments.
Allow for a readjustment
period. The pace of life in a
war zone is quite different from that in the office. Your returning Reservist
will need time to decompress and regain balance with the day-to-day office
routine. Be patient and reassure the employee that support and guidance are
available to ease the transition.
Provide support during a
difficult transition. War is traumatic and readjustment
can be difficult. Be aware of symptoms signaling difficulty such as
combat-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Note
changes and encourage a dialogue with the employee. First and foremost,
reassure the employee that difficulties are to be expected and that the company
will stand behind him or her throughout the situation. Reiterate your expectations,
listen to the employee’s concerns, and provide ancillary resources to ease the
transition. Suspected mental health problems
should be referred to a mental health professional. To that end, review your
benefits for employees interested in seeking the care of a professional
Before Returning to Your Workplace
Prior to the Reservist’s return to work, managers should consider
actually giving the returning employee a printout of the following suggestions:
Touch base with your
supervisor. Don’t wait until your first day of work. Make an
appointment to chat prior to your return. Find out what developments have taken
place and how the company has evolved during your absence.
Go slowly. Don’t
rush the adjustment period. Understand that your return will involve a bit of a
learning curve to understand what has transpired in your absence. Embrace the
process, communicate concerns and needs, and ask for clarification when
Resist the urge to assume
control. You may have been in a supervisory role prior to
your tour of duty. In your absence, others will have taken over that role. You
may have had a leadership role during your tour. Please don’t bring that “military”
authority back to the job. Upon your return, go easy on coworkers who might
misinterpret your good intentions to jump actively back into your job. Instead,
understand and appreciate the decisions made in your absence, and make a
concerted effort to work collaboratively until you are fully back into your
normal office routine.
Seek counsel via your
commanding officer. It won’t be surprising to find
that he or she is quite likely to be guiding others from your unit through a
similar transition. They may also serve as a bridge between your war
experiences and your employer’s situation during your absence. Additionally,
you might want to explore transitional assistance programs offered by the
Voice your concerns and
feelings. Talking about your experiences, especially with
other Reservists, will reaffirm that you are not alone and that your
feelings/challenges are normal. Turn to family, friends, and/or faith as sounding
boards. Seek out a Reservist support group. If the previous resources are
unavailable, enlist the help of your company’s employee assistance program
(EAP), if they have one.
Heed your health. War time
stress and readjustment to work and home life can take a toll on your physical
and mental health. Eat and rest well. Exercise regularly and find safe outlets
for managing stress. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Understand your rights. Through
a recent public service announcement, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao reminded
employers of their obligation to abide by the 1994 federal Uniformed Services
Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA). It states that it is illegal
to discriminate against military personnel, regardless of the length of their
tour or their rank, including those in any branch of the reserve or guard
forces, and that their same job, or a comparable one, with equivalent pay
raises and promotions, must be made available to them upon their return to
work. In the event that you can no longer perform the job, your employer must
make reasonable efforts to assist you in updating your skills.
Finding Additional Support
Remind the employee that asking for help is not a sign of
weakness. Quite the contrary. Nearly every military installation offers a
Family Service Center, Family Support Center, or Army Community Service Center.
These facilities provide information, referral, counseling, and crisis
intervention services. These services are offered to all military families,
including those of National Guard and Reserve members who are activated for
more than 30 days, are eligible for medical and mental health care either at a
Military Medical Treatment Facility or at a civilian facility through the
Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS).
As Secretary Chao stated in her public address, “They did
their job—now let’s do ours.”
Source: This article was written by Karen Usher of
TPO, Inc., a leading provider of
human resources outsourcing services based in Falls Church, VA. You can contact
her or learn more about the company by calling 703-533-1533 or visiting www.tpo-inc.com.