News reports chronicle the rapidly developing events in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the arrival of 7,000 US troops from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia—who are joining with multinational troops as part of the NATO Response. They will arrive in Germany, but could be repositioned to other NATO countries. Other US soldiers have already been deployed to the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania. An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers are awaiting mobilization stateside should the United States commit more troops to Europe.
Across the nation, organizations will be impacted by these and any future regular armed forces deployments as their family members may well be your employees. If reservists are activated, thousands more will be tapped, many of whom will be your employees. Many of your employees are veterans and have personal ties to the units being deployed. And if your organization is a military contractor or provides goods and services directly to the military or to the communities surrounding our nation’s military installations, hundreds of others will feel the burden of world events. In every one of these instances, they and their families will be impacted, some in deeply significant ways.
The US Department of Veteran Affairs offers this valuable overview, Supporting Your Employees in the Reserve & National Guard, and in particular, Planning for Military Leave for Employees in the Reserve and National Guard – Veterans Employment Toolkit (va.gov). A few highlights from the latter:
What the CHRO should do in advance:
- Create a company policy regarding military leaves. A current or future employee who is a member of the Reserves in any of the military branches or who serves in the National Guard is likely to leave for military training, mobilization, or deployment at numerous times during employment. Here is an example of a Military Leave Policy.
- Establish a relationship with the Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). The ESGR has a multitude of resources to help you and your employee navigate mobilizations and deployments successfully.
- Create a plan of action in advance of extended mobilization or deployment. Determine what tasks your employee is responsible for and how those responsibilities will be handled by others. Provide necessary training to support those who will step into these responsibilities.
- Create an activation protocol so that the plan is ready when needed and be realistic about the time frame to expect; your employee may not be given much notice (e.g., mobilization to aid after a natural disaster).
- Meet with reservists and members of the National Guard and discuss plans to deploy and reenter the workforce.
What the CHRO and HR Function should do during deployment:
- Keep your Reserve and National Guard employees “in the loop” with what is going on at work. Information to share might include positive changes in the workplace (e.g., new projects or hires) and social information (e.g., a coworker had a baby, a new walking group started).
- Keep coworkers up to date by posting emails from Reserve and National Guard employees who report how they are faring during deployment. This must be balanced with the employee’s level of access and any privacy issues.
- Support co-workers requests to show support (e.g., letters, care packages).
- Acknowledge and give recognition to coworkers who have assumed added responsibilities in the absence of the Reserve or National Guard employee.
What the CHRO and HR Function should do after deployment:
- Have your Reserve or National Guard employee meet with managers or supervisors and Human Resource staff before returning to work.
- Discuss what the employee can expect (e.g., what tasks have been delegated to others, if he or she will be working in the same or a different role, if and how procedures have changed).
- Discuss what the employee would like or find helpful in returning to work (e.g., written instructions for new procedures, additional meetings with management to get caught up on what he or she has missed).
- Discuss how the employee would like to be treated regarding their deployment (e.g., would they prefer not to discuss it, would they like to share what they did while they were away).
- Determine what training, re-training, or accommodations need to be put into place.
- Develop individualized reintegration plans as appropriate.
- While the focus should, appropriately, be on the deployed employee, the emotional and psychological toll that impacts the military family should not be overlooked. With less than 1 percent of the US population having served in the military, it is no longer the common galvanizing experience it was for generations past.
Here are a few things you can do for the employee who is part of a military family for someone who is deployed:
- Reach out and offer support. Reiterate the company’s existing programs that they can take advantage of.
- Offer additional personal time off and/or flexible scheduling. There is always a flurry of activity before the deployed service member departs and the military family often has only a few hours to complete complicated, often legal, matters. It will continue during deployment and end well after a return home.
- Consider starting an employee resource group (ERG) designed to support military families and spouses.
- Consider sending support (gift certificate to a local restaurant, household cleaning service, etc.) to the family to provide a welcome break.
We know that military veterans, reservists, and members of military families bring leadership and technical skills to the workforce and are often counted among the most valuable employees. Employers can do a great deal to ensure that these workers and their families feel valued. Few employees are more loyal than those, military or otherwise, who remember the caring support for themselves and their loved ones in times of crisis.