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Military Deployments Hamper Companies

The extended call-ups of employees by the Guard and Reserve have placed difficult demands upon employers, but HR professionals can minimize the effects on their organizations while supporting their workers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
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Employers are facing continuing, unexpected demands resulting from employee mobilizations over the past few years. This burden is different than earlier experiences and many employers and employees are learning how to deal with the change.

The extended support of overseas operations was not anticipated by Guard and Reserve members or their employers. Understandably, employers are uncomfortable, since longs periods of employee absence is not what they expected when they hired a member of the Guard and Reserve. The employers' playing field has changed, their rules have changed, and they feel disenfranchised.

Historically, the Guard and Reserve had been activated only twice from inception until 1991. There was a full call-up during World War II and a partial call-up during the Korean War. The 30,000 Guard and Reserve personnel who served during the Vietnam War were all volunteers who asked to be sent to the war zone. The limited combat activities between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War were for the most part fought with active duty troops.

However, since the 1990-1991 Gulf War, there have been fourteen call-ups of the Guard and Reserve. This increased activation has put a tremendous strain on the Guard and Reserve system and the relations of military participants with their employers.

This list of call-ups does not include mobilizations for state based emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Many western states count on their National Guard units to help fight fires each summer. The ability of states to use their National Guard units in their traditional roles has been disrupted by the many call-ups for Afghanistan and Iraq.

Impact of Constant Call-Ups

Traditionally, employees participated in a Guard or Reserve program on weekends and most used two weeks of their vacation time to participate in their two week active duty for training. But current policies by the Department of Defense are calling Guard and Reserve personnel from their employers for up to a year a time, and in many cases, the employee has been called up several times. Over 40% of the troops on overseas duty are Guard and Reserve personnel.

These disruptions make it difficult for employers to plan and depend on having their human capital available to fulfill their corporate mission. While large patriotic companies like Wal-Mart, BNSF Railway, Eaton Corporation, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Sears & Roebuck, Toyota Motor Sales and many utilities and municipalities actively support the call-up of their Guard and Reserve personnel, difficulties remain.

Corporate leaders invest considerable resource to build teams of people to work together on a continuing basis so the company can earn a profit and grow. When the team cohesiveness, effectiveness, and efficiency are interrupted by a key player leaving for a year or more, the company's competitive position and capacity are restricted.

If executives can not adequately plan and engage confidently in the market place, the entire organization is placed at a disadvantage. This potentially serious limitation leaves executives with a jaundiced view towards hiring members of the Guard or Reserve into key positions.

Support for Families

Add to this concern the financial impact of supporting Guard and Reserve employees and their families. Many companies used to match salaries and continue benefits for the employee and the employee's family. As most companies are patriotic, this was an acceptable cost when the employee was only gone for 15 to 30 days. When the employee is gone for six months or a year, however, the cost becomes prohibitive.

The emotional effect on co-workers when an employee is called to active duty can be significant from several perspectives. First, remaining employees have to pick up duties and responsibilities that had been accomplished by the key employee called to active duty. As there is no tax credit system or government financial support to hire a temporary replacement employee, the strain that extra work puts on company morale can be unhealthy. This factor mitigates against companies wanting to hire Guard and Reserve employees, especially if the employee is a key executive, in a professional position, or even has responsibility to maintain production equipment.

Second, if the employee is killed or injured, co-workers may need to deal with psychological issues if they were close to the individual. Dealing with these psychological issues increases intangible costs for the employer, costs that are not reimbursed by the government. Executives wanting to support employees who are in the Guard and Reserve are torn in their responsibilities, since they also want to build a strong culture with high morale.

Third, there are the hidden costs of maintaining relationships with called-up employees and their family members during deployment. Forward-thinking companies will want their human resource professionals and the employee's manager/supervisor to stay in touch with the called-up employee. This takes time away from productivity at the company and has a hidden cost.

Questions arise about how much obligation -- or opportunity -- employers and co-workers have toward the family of the mobilized employee. For examples of what has been done, click on "Employer Best Practices" at EmployersUnited.com.

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Fourth, there are legal issues concerning hiring replacements or moving people around within a company. USERRA is very specific about what a company can or can not do in this regard, and errors can become very costly for a company. Thus extensive training is required of supervisors, managers, executives and human resource personnel to prevent violations of the law. This cost of this training is an employer responsibility, but is encouraged by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).

Most employers, caring for their employees and their families, move easily into doing the kinds of things that support their members of the Guard and Reserve. Their involvement can range from following federal law regarding keeping jobs open for service members to supplementing compensation to promoting support for the military.

Support can include helping out family members of called-up employees by mowing lawns, shoveling snow, offering babysitting or grocery-shopping services, in addition to staying in touch with the employee by e-mail or mail.

To serve as a guideline and motivator, ESGR established a five-level recognition system for employers. Employers sign a statement of support and are evaluated on the basis of what they have done to support Guard and Reserve employees, current or future. Employers can earn recognition for various levels of commitment by providing demonstrated support for the volunteers who serve our nation.

Employers play an important role in our country's defense, supporting their Guard and Reserve employees and their families. Much of what they do doesn't show up on reports or statistical surveys. The support is quiet, personal, and effective, building communities of employers, employees, and families.

Roger Herman, CEO of The Herman Group, Greensboro, North Carolina, is lead author of "Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People; How to Become an Employer of Choice, Keeping Good People," and eight other books. He is a respected thought leader and consultant in workforce/workplace trends and employee retention, and serves as contributing editor for workforce trends for The Futurist magazine. He can be contacted through roger@hermangroup.com.

Ted Daywalt is CEO of VetJobs, the largest military related job board on the Internet and the leading resource used to employ veterans, transitioning military and their family members. Ted is a retired Navy captain has more than 25 years in business in senior executive positions and is an internationally recognized expert on the use of the Internet by companies for recruiting. He can be contacted at tdaywalt@vetjobs.com.

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