Veterans
Article by Lida Citroen
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

5 reasons veterans leave civilian jobs

For most hiring managers, sourcing, and hiring employees is only half the work: Retaining and engaging them is critical. According to a study published by the Society of Human Resources Professionals in late 2017, "The average overall turnover rate in 2016 was 18%. The 2016 rate is similar to the 2015 rate (19%)." This indicates a huge savings for employers, as replacing employees is time intensive and costly.

As companies recognize the benefits of hiring military veterans, the question often arises: Will they stay? Replacing an employee who is also a veteran is costly (as with any employee) and often emotional (I feel bad for not retaining someone who served our country).


A 2014 study from VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families IVMF) at Syracuse University found that nearly half of all veterans leave their first post-military position within a year, and between 60% and 80% of veterans leave their first civilian jobs before their second work anniversary.

There are many reasons an employee leaves their current job – some are within, and others are outside of their control. For instance, downsizing, performance issues, and natural employee attrition certainly account for some retention statistics.

In the case of military veterans in civilian careers, the five reasons that stand out for turnover include:

1. Lack of leadership

Leadership is a foundational value and skill developed in the military. From the moment an individual puts on the uniform, to the day they leave the military, they are taught how to lead, why leadership matters, the importance of driving towards a mission, and caring for their teams/colleagues. In their civilian careers, veterans often seek to lead or be led in similar ways: Ascribing to a high set of values and principles, complete accountability and responsibility for actions, and caring for others. When these goals fall short, the veteran might feel disillusioned and could leave the company in search of a more meaningful contribution or leader.

2. Feeling a deficiency of support

Unlike your recent college graduate, or civilian employee, your veteran will likely not feel comfortable asking for help, resources or support. They are accustomed to being self-sufficient to solve problems. When they hit a wall, they were trained to go around, over, under or through it to get to resolution. But what happens when they feel stuck, lost, confused or hopeless? Unless the employer has a structure in place (that is well communicated to the veteran employee,) about what to do when needing support, the veteran could leave the company rather than risk the embarrassment of asking for help.

3. Found a better job

Lt. Col. Donald Elliott, of the Adjutant General School, talks to a representative from Penske. Elliott is retiring in a year and wants to start preparing for his transition into civilian life.(Photo by Ms. Demetria Mosley)

With 5 million veterans estimated to be in the workplace by 2023, and more employers recognizing the value in hiring military talent, it's common today for veteran employees to be recruited out of their current job. As social media tools have enhanced their search ability for prospects, savvy recruiters are contacting employees and recruiting them away.

4. Skills not aligned

Perhaps the employer took a chance on a veteran candidate who lacked several of the key skills for the job. And, maybe that employer neglected to give that employee access to training and tools needed to do the job well. Combine this with the veteran's reluctance to ask for help… and you may have an employee who is not skilled up on the work needed.

5. Chose the wrong job

There are a number of military veterans who will accept the first job offer they get simply to create some stability in their transition. This is not ideal for the employer or the employee, but it does happen. The pressure and stress of transitioning from a career, culture, and team you are very familiar with, to something completely unknown, is daunting.

When it comes to military veteran employees, employers can do more to increase the support network, open communications channels, and demonstrate leadership aligned with values to positively impact retention.

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