The Cross-Generational Mind-set of Young Veterans

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By Phyllis Weiss Haserot

As a result of the long-enduring wars during the lifetimes of Gen Yers/Millennials, we have a large pool of veterans who, as a group, are recognized, thanked, and celebrated by our country's population. But when they join the civilian ranks, even without having suffered severe physical or mental disabilities during their time of service, many face difficulties getting jobs. This is particularly true in the long economic downturn we are still experiencing (a jobs deficit). And employers often are puzzled as to how to best integrate veterans and use or transfer their skills.

Michael L. Faulkner, Andrea Nierenberg, and Michael Abrams have coauthored Networking for Veterans, a book that aims to help this deserving group of citizens obtain jobs, promotions, and make career-fostering connections. What a wonderful contribution to helping veterans help themselves! 

But what about the employer side? Employers are still trying to get their arms around how they need to address the different needs and wants of Gen Y workers. Those employers often considered Gen Yers to present a different challenge. Just think about the life experiences veterans have had as young adults compared with nonveterans of the same age!

A Different Profile

These Gen Y veterans are under thirty-five years of age – many are in their twenties – and many have been in war zones and faced death situations and stresses far greater than university students have. They have been separated from family and friends. They have forged bonds with "teammates" that go deeper than most young people's friendships. They have been trained to take enormous responsibility and initiative, but also to obey a chain of command by necessity more rigid than Gen Yers experiences at work in today's more flexible workplace. They are used to being pushed to their limits and challenged. Many have been trained as leaders and demonstrated those skills. They know the purpose of their work and its meaning for their country.

Few civilians in their twenties have had to make the same levels of commitment or behave with the same maturity. So when these veterans enter the workplace, there is bound to be a disconnect with their peers in several ways, and some adjustment will be required on both sides.

One advantage may be that veterans will relate more to older generations and workplace structure. Once oriented, they may need less guidance than their same-age peers and take more initiative and educated risks. Employers can benefit from their leadership skills and their training to be followers.

Adjustment to work culture may mean getting comfortable with looser behavior and more ambiguous (unwritten) rules and hierarchy. Many nonveteran Gen Yers resist hierarchy and want to express their opinions directly to senior leaders.

From the Employer Side

Veterans can make excellent employees, but employers need to approach their recruiting in a different way than for Gen Y/Millennials. These young veterans may expect more formality than the typical Gen Yer does. The interviewers should be from the Baby Boomer or Traditionalist generations.

Recruiters and interviewers need to be trained to understand the veterans' different competencies, expectations, needs, and wants from the overall Gen Y pool. Employers need to think through how younger veterans can fill their particular needs differently than a recent university graduate.

Similar to the case with other "minorities", retention is a tougher issue than hiring. If the organization hires a sizable number of veterans, a multigenerational veteran employee resource group (ERG; also known as an affinity group) can be helpful and provide mentors and sponsors. With time, veterans can learn to relate better to their Gen Y nonveteran peers. They may be able to serve as a bridge to older generations and even as role models.

What ideas do you have on more effectively hiring and integrating veterans in an organization and taking advantage of their cross-generational attributes? Let me know.

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About the author:

Phyllis Weiss Haserot helps firms attract and retain clients of different generations and improve the working relations of their multigenerational teams, including knowledge transfer. She is president of Practice Development Counsel and a recognized expert on workplace intergenerational challenges. She is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2012). Reach her at [email protected] or View her YouTube videos at her Generational GPS channel.

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