Supervisors Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Jobs

shadows of people entering a plane

By: Keaton Fletcher

Transitioning from active military duty to civilian jobs can be particularly challenging, but relatively little empirical work has been done to explore this period. A recent paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Hammer, Wan, Brockwood, Bodner & Mohr, 2019) examines how supportive behaviors from a supervisor can help in this transition, particularly with regard to the work-life challenges that arise. Specifically, the authors explored emotional support (i.e., helping the individual manage their emotions), instrumental support (i.e., providing tangible resources to help with issues), role modeling (i.e., demonstrating that the leader values a work-non-work balance in their own life), and various aspects of performance support at work (e.g., feedback, resource provision, health protection). The authors provided online training about veteran-supportive supervision to 928 supervisors across 16 organizations, 65 of whom supervised at least one veteran. The supervisors also had to track their behavior in the workplace to help transfer the training to the job.

Surprisingly, however, the supervisor training did not result in a general improved veteran health and work outcomes. The training did, however, result in better outcomes for veterans whose supervisors were already supportive, suggesting that leaders who were open to veteran-supportive behaviors actually learned from the training and applied the knowledge and skills gained. Further, in environments where coworker support for veterans is low, the training had limited impact, but if coworker support was already high, then the supervisor training helped improve veteran outcomes.

This study tackles a major issue in the modern workforce, transitioning veterans into civilian jobs. By examining a supervisor training, the authors were able to move beyond simply describing this challenge, and test ways of how to improve it. Although the training was not effective across the board, it did show promise in environments that were already open to veteran support. This highlights that for many issues, training, alone, cannot solve the problem. Training should be coupled with policy, practice, and procedural changes along with shifts in culture and climate in order to magnify the training’s effects.

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