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Why "Fitting In" with Coworkers is Harder for Veterans

In the military, you didn't have to negotiate your salary - or keep quiet about what it was.

Fitting in with coworkers can be difficult at the best of times, but for military veterans who recently returned from active service, it can reach a whole new level of awkward. After being in an environment where their actions could determine life or death for someone, landing a veteran’s job in a company where the most action takes place around the water cooler can be a real anti-climax.

Here’s why fitting in is harder for veterans:

You’re on Your Own

The military typically makes things simple for service members. You receive orders and are required to follow them. Everything else is taken care of – your accommodation, training, healthcare, even food – and you’re never in a position where you have to fend for yourself. Once you return, however, getting back in the swing of finding a place to stay near to your job, buying the right clothes for a corporate position, cooking, exercising and eating healthy food becomes challenging, especially for single veterans. Your coworkers are accustomed to dealing with all these issues and it becomes routine for them while being on your own can be traumatic for you. If you’re also experiencing PTSD at the same time as starting a veteran’s job, it could all get to be just a tad too much. 

People Don’t Do What They Say They Will Do

This is unheard of in the military. If you ask or tell someone to do something, it’s done. In an office environment, you can ask your coworker for those stats he promised five times before you get them—if you’re lucky. This can be very difficult to handle for veterans, especially those who have held command posts in the military. In addition, there are certain protocols to follow when it comes to approaching slackers in the workplace, and the methods that would have worked in the military just won’t do.

You Deal with Egos

In the armed forces, you’re part of a team and the focus isn’t on you, or anyone else. In civilian life, people are encouraged to express their individuality, and that often happens with a degree of narcissism or ego-centric behavior. “It’s all about me” is a familiar way of thinking in others that it can take time to adjust to. Veterans often end up being thought of as reserved or withdrawn, simply because they aren’t accustomed to discussing their private business with their colleagues and expecting them to be interested. Learning to mix comfortably with co-workers can be especially challenging for long-term service members in a civilian veteran’s job. 

The Risk of Being Fired

It’s very hard to get “fired” from the military. That doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble, but it usually isn’t the end of your career. Also, there’s no such thing as a pink slip layoff just for not being a good fit for the team, or producing a less-than-miraculous performance. It can take several layoffs before veterans learn how the system works, and each one saps their confidence and enthusiasm. This makes it important to build up some savings while you are working in a veteran’s job, as well as a good support system of family members and friends. Avoid getting too close to coworkers because if you do get fired or laid off, staying friends with them can be difficult. 

Salary Negotiations

Negotiating your compensation based on your value to the company and the impact of your deliverables is another foreign concept for veterans. Military pay is transparent and based on your rank and your needs. It lands in your bank account every pay period without fail unless there is a hiccup. When veterans join the civilian workforce, however, they have to not only determine what their own needs are but they may have to negotiate to get a livable rate, too. Then there’s the issue of confidentiality that surrounds most workplace salaries, which can be a major adjustment for someone who has spent several years simply receiving regular payments.

Ways to Beat This

Healthcare, insurance, business terminology and time off can also be confusing and hard to navigate for veterans. Your best bet is to identify a mentor or supervisor who can advise you of the best course of action when you’re in doubt, or find someone in the HR department who understands your background and is sympathetic to your needs. Socially awkward behavior can cost you in terms of lost promotions, lost prospects and ineffective presentations, so practice smiling, making eye contact, talking to others and asking questions to keep them talking.

Visit our job board regularly to find companies that have positions available offering veterans jobs, and follow our blog and social media profiles to get news of job fairs in your area.