by Hannah Becker, Guest Contributor
Being a military spouse + professional isn’t easy. There have been times in my career where I questioned if it was even possible for the two to coexist.
The unique responsibilities being a war-time military spouse presents, routinely conflicted with many professional opportunities that came my way.
While my female B-school colleagues lamented their struggle of “trying to have it all” (work + motherhood), I juggled cross-country moves, combat veteran’s medical needs, the dreaded deployments, advocating for the military community and a bunch of other “you’d only understand if you were a milso” stuff.
With a reported 90% of military spouses jobless or underemployed, landing a job can seem like an impossible feat, much less keeping one. How many of you have sat through rounds and rounds of humiliating interviews, peppered with intrusive statements like:
“You sure move a lot! Why? Keep getting run out of town?”
“Marketing Director to a Waitress—wow. That had to suck.”
“We need a committed employee, not one that’s going to up and move with her husband every year.”
“Career consistency is key. Your frequent relocations and sporadic job progression is a big red flag to our corporate clients seeking quality employees.”
Given the discouraging military spouse employment stats, it’s understandable to “take what you can get” in terms of work, even if the organization isn’t “military-friendly.”
I recently took a position in the non-profit sector, hopeful this charitable, “family-oriented organization” would harmoniously work with the military-specific responsibilities I currently shouldered. Unfortunately, it didn’t and I found myself, frustratingly, back at the drawing board in terms of professional progression.
However, throughout the experience, I learned a thing or two about navigating the uncomfortable quagmire of not “military-friendly” organizations and hoped you might find my uncomfortable enlightenment beneficial.
Here are 5 tips for navigating “non-military-friendly” employers:
1. Be Proactive
Prior to accepting a position, do your homework. Find out if this organization has hired military spouses or veterans in the past. Discuss any potential concerns you might have with Human Resources (HR).
My list of questions/disclosures center around my spouse’s impending deployments and VA appointments, observance of patriotic holidays and any potential conflicts with my present military community philanthropy.
See a potential “red flag” in the job interview? Ask HR about it and assess their response. Do they take your concerns seriously? Are there organizational policies in place to accommodate for military family responsibilities?
2. Try to Educate
Once hired and you realize your employer isn’t as “military-friendly” as you’d hoped, try to educate. My employer routinely accommodated for my coworker’s young children’s needs (doctor’s appointments, school functions, church activities), but responded with ignorance and irreverence when denying my requests to accompany my spouse to VA appointments, take off one afternoon to volunteer with veterans’ organization fundraisers and support a fellow military family experiencing a rocky transition post-deployment.
My employer would say things like:
“Can’t your husband take himself to the doctor?”
“I need you to work July 4th.”
“I do not feel like you take this responsibility seriously, as our organization’s work takes priority over volunteer/military stuff.”
Aghhhhh! Do those statements make you mad? Well, they sure did me.
When encountering such culture clash, take a deep, deep, breath and seek to educate your employer in a calm, collected manner (no exploding with, “You @#$% unpatriotic, yellow-bellied @#$%!”, even if it is well-deserved!).
Discuss the lack of “understanding” with the HR director and recommend staff education regarding military community needs and supervisor respect for responsibilities of your lifestyle.
3. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be a saving grace for your job (and family!), if your employment tenure qualifies. You may be more familiar with FMLA as the Department of Labor’s “maternity leave” provision; but today’s FMLA does offer some benefits to military families.
FMLA provides military spouses with unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks surrounding service member’s deployment, homecoming and medical needs.
Unfortunately, the FMLA protection only applies to full-time positions where the employee has been employed for at least 12 consecutive months. Big bummer for those of us who’ve recently relocated.
4. Document Everything
As in any less-than-ideal workplace situation, it’s important to document any and all unsettling comments, questions, denied requests, etc. When dealing with a non-military-friendly employer, it’s important to write down all incidents of lack of support.
When your workplace’s lack of professionalism on military topics crosses the proverbial line, take your notebook to the HR Department and share your experiences. A competent and concerned HR team will strive to ensure all employees are experiencing a positive work environment and will seek to educate staff members on proper conduct and implement policies protecting military community employees.
5. Know Your Limits
While singlehandedly converting an entire civilian-biased organization to a military-friendly one would be amazing, it’s rather unlikely.
Military life presents a number of additional stressors over civilian life; fighting an employer should not have to be one of them. Know your limits.
Draw a “line in the sand” regarding how many lengthy HR chats falling on deaf ears you’ll endure. When dealing with a non-military-friendly employer, I recommend keeping “one foot out the door”—continuing to cultivate networks and researching additional professional opportunities. Also, don’t hesitate to consult professional legal counsel when encountering a less than ideal employment situation.
While your reasons for leaving an organization may be very different from those of your civilian colleagues, don’t be ashamed or discouraged.
The life we lead as military spouses is very, very different from those of non-military and thus requires a very, very different set of criteria in which to be successful.
Remember that you’re not alone, and that while such experiences may feel isolating, hundreds of thousands of military spouses have walked in your shoes. Don’t give up and continue to strive toward professional success!
Without naming names, have you worked for a less than military-friendly employer? How did you handle potential conflicts regarding your unique needs?
Hannah Becker is a serial entrepreneur, MBA grad and proud military spouse. Author of The Motivated Millennial: An Entrepreneurial Guidebook for Generation Y and Founder/Consultant at HCB Consulting, Hannah is committed to encouraging others to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Learn more about Hannah’s career and publications at www.themotivatedmillennial.com. Follow Hannah on Twitter: @MotivatedGenY or on Facebook.