Returning to the civilian workplace brings about many challenges to our troops as well as their families. It is often difficult for civilians to understand and support soldiers as they make this difficult transition.
Oftentimes, civilians are of the mentality that “a job is just a job, not a big deal, so what’s the problem.” Ideally this would be great advice, however, civilians have no idea or comprehension of what the soldier has seen, done, or heard in a war zone. So unless a civilian actually takes the time to really get to know a soldier, they cannot begin to comprehend how difficult both physically and emotionally this transition can be.
Hopefully my insight on ways to make your transition into a civilian workplace will make it less stressful and perhaps somewhat enjoyable. After all, it is simply a matter of adapting and overcoming!
- Drop military jargon. For example, stop saying “yes sir/yes ma’am”. This is something I still have to remember and I have been out about 20 years now!
- 12 hour time. Remember, civilians are unaccustomed to the way you refer to 2 PM as being 1400 hrs.
- Acronym city. If you say you are a PN on a CVN in the MED, you’ll just get a blank stare! A lot of military acronyms have no meaning or a different meaning in the civilian world.
- Relax. Loosen up a bit; it’s not necessary to speak only when you are spoken to. Rather, try to initiate conversations with your new coworkers.
Career Bliss suggests that practicing workplace interaction with a non-military friend and receiving candid feedback will help you become more comfortable in carrying on conversations while at work.
Another good thing to try is to sit back and observe the dynamics of your new workplace. Military personnel military codes and rank helps everyone understand their duties and the chain of command. In a civilian workplace, these roles are far less concrete as I have learned over the years.
Also, the pace of work is very different. Civilians are not accustomed to working with the singular focus that the military demands; hence, your work ethic may actually be perceived as offensive or threatening to a coworker. You can avoid this by building relationships with coworkers. Show interest in their job and personal life, be helpful, and ask questions. At the same time it is wise to find someone who can be your mentor. You can ask to be paired with any fellow veteran employees to work with them as a mentor and teacher. Many large companies use such programs in order to reduce friction and increase productivity.
For me personally, the hardest part was learning what to wear to work after all the years of donning the uniform. I learned to observe what others in the office were wearing to make sure I was dressed appropriately, since the dress codes were so vague. Also, seeking advice from family and friends can help. I STILL ask my daughter for help deciding what looks good together!
These are just a few simple suggestions to help guide you through this challenging time. There are several avenues available to help you blend into the civilian workforce. For example, you can contact your local US Department of Veteran’s Affairs or go online to http://www.va.gov/vetsinworkplace/. When all else fails, there is usually a veteran in most workplaces that you can talk too. Please be sure to seek assistance if you find yourself having difficulties handling the transition.