Veterans provide a tremendous resource if we know how to attract, retain, and reward them.

An estimated 250,000 veterans leave the military every year and are projected to do so at the same rate for years to come. These outstanding individuals will be looking for work. I was in this very situation when I left the Air Force in 2010. Being a veteran myself, I know the transition from military life to civilian life can be difficult.

While working with firms on their strategic plans, inevitably one of the top three concerns principals face is hiring and retention of good, qualified talent. With the current job outlook, this problem will only get more difficult over the next several years. Veterans provide a tremendous resource if we know how to attract, retain, and reward them.

A cornucopia of initiatives help veterans get hired, such as Hiring our Heroes, Operation IMPACT Network of Champions, and Veterans Jobs Mission. They are doing great work along with those that are assisting us in translating and communicating the leadership and technical skillset we’ve developed while serving that is so valuable to firms. Unfortunately, nearly half of all veterans leave their first civilian job within a year and as many as 80 percent will leave before they finish their second work anniversary. What does that mean to us? We need to do a better job retaining veterans and have a larger conversation around retaining employees in general.

According to VetAdvisor and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the top reasons that veterans are departing their first jobs include a lack of career advancement/development, work that lacks meaning, limited professional development opportunities, or an unfamiliar work culture. You’ll notice that many of these explanations are the same that departing non-veteran employees give. So as leaders within organizations, what do we do to hold onto this vital group?

Educate firm leaders, recruiters, and managers about military culture and language. We need championship from the principal level down that allows leadership to bridge gaps in communication. We can’t expect veterans to do all of the adapting. Other veterans within your firm can help.

Design a specific onboarding and integration program for veterans. A more thorough examination of your onboarding process for every employee may be a good idea. One helpful suggestion is to develop a glossary of common terminology, acronyms, and jargon.

Help veterans establish connections and relationships within the firm.

Find a way to connect role responsibilities to the firm’s overall strategy and purpose.

A few more suggestions for retention that are applicable to every great team member you have include:

  • Responsibility — Push tasks and duties as far down in the org chart as possible. Strive to give ownership and responsibility to everyone and allow mentor relationships to help develop the necessary skillset.
  • Respect — This one is obvious. Everyone wants to know they are respected and appreciated.
  • Revenue sharing — Tie a part of employee compensation to the firm’s performance.
  • Reward — Reward goes beyond monetary compensation. Celebrate wins, give recognition, and build an intentionally positive workplace culture. Give people a purpose to work toward; provide them a “why.”
  • Flexibility — Some form of flexible work environment and allowing employees to relax are key to retention.

Long-term commitment requires work from both the top and bottom of the organization. There is a lot of discussion around “job hoppers,” but if you want to keep people, it is vital that you give them good reasons to stay.


Phil Keil is director of Strategy Consulting, Zweig Group. Contact him at pkeil@zweiggroup.com.