Hiring a Vet part 2: Working With Veterans

Congrats, you hired a veteran. You have done more than just give a person a job, you have given back to a person that has given so much for their nation. While it can be difficult to join the military, it can be just as daunting to get out and face the civilian world. While you may have hired someone with a discipline and a good work ethic, there are some challenges. Here are a few pointers to make sure it is a positive experience for everyone.

Don’t ask stupid questions
This may seem pretty obvious, but you would be surprised how many people mess this up. Don’t ask a vet how many people he has killed, don’t ask how many friends she lost and for the love of God, don’t mention PTSD. These are very personal topics and something most people won’t want to talk about with people they just met.

It should raise a red flag if someone is eager to talk about killing people with coworkers. No true warrior is going to talk about the fallen but the gomers will use it for sympathy. Those people should be shunned.

Understand that Vets have a different value system
This is one issue that plagues many veterans in the civilian world. Going from a work environment where everyone does his or her part to a place where everyone is out for themselves. There are people in the military that don’t grasp the “team” concept and they are pretty much universally recognized as being shitbags. Unfortunately, you can’t kick someone out of the military for not being a hard worker so they stick around until their enlistment ends.

Officers may understand office politics and should be quite good at them. Enlisted, however, do not deal with that. They will work hard and expect others to work hard as well. When someone drags their feet for no reason other than being lazy, they will get upset. They will respect those that work hard. Unfortunately, that isn’t how the civilian world works. Work ethic counts for less than who likes who.

Military members and pop culture
Vets will also have a different idea of what is important. When someone becomes accustomed to making life and death decisions it is difficult to care about what Justin Beiber is up to. Some vets may have been deployed or so busy with training that they have neglected to keep up on pop culture. I missed the entire Spice Girls thing when I was in Germany. I never heard one of their songs. I never understood what the big deal was. The only thing I knew about them was from a Stars and Stripes article when they met Prince Charles. Paris Hilton became big when I was in Afghanistan so I didn’t hear the hype until the bandwagon was long gone. Here is my pretty much first conversation about Paris Hilton went.

Me: Who is that?
Him: Paris Hilton. She is so hot.
Me: No she isn’t.
Him: Yes she is, everyone thinks so.
Me: She has a big nose and the body of a 12-year-old boy. There is nothing hot about that.
Him: (annoyed) Yes she is, everyone thinks so.
Me: Who is she?
Him: She is famous.
Me: For what?
Him: For being famous.
Me: You can’t be famous for being famous. You have to do something to become famous first.
Him: She made a sex tape.
Me: Oh, so she is a porn star.
Him: No she isn’t.
Me: That is what you call someone that has sex on camera.
Him: No, she was rich and then the sex tape came out.
Me: An unattractive rich woman that no one used to care about is famous for having sex in a movie and is not a porn star.
Him: Yes.
Me: This is stupid.

Of course this is not universal. Some vets use pop culture as a form of escapism. When there is little to do on a FOB and only three magazines you can expect in-depth conversations about whatever is written in those magazines. Whether or not a vet is up on pop culture, it won’t impact how they think of a coworker. Military members have to work with a diverse group of people while they are in. Any vet that makes a judgment of a fellow worker based on what music they listen to or how they feel about celebrities should raise a red flag.

In the military, you make fun of the people you respect not the people you don’t
Mockery is reserved for the people you like. If there is a proper, professional relationship between two co-workers and one is a vet, it is most likely because he does not like the other person. In the military, you have to be able to work with everyone assigned to the platoon. If work suffers, people die. Because of that, a vet can work alongside someone he or she has a seething hatred for without work suffering. Civilians don’t seem to be able to do that. For the friend however, expect mean jokes to fly back and forth. Even if they seem mean spirited, no feelings are hurt.

If there is a real problem, military members are taught to address it and move on. There is no passive aggressive behavior. It is direct, frank conversation and it is over. It makes the long term work environment so much better.

Working with veterans can be a rewarding experience. It is good for the bottom line to have someone with a good understanding of the team concept, discipline and a solid work ethic. Unfortunately, not all vets are stellar performers. I once worked with a vet that violated all the rules. He was unprofessional, passive aggressive and petty. Fortunately, he didn’t last long after the red flags were raised. When you get a good one, there are no better people to work with.

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