Transitioning out of the military after years of service is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It can be a challenge for many Veterans to find their “place” back in the civilian world. But maintaining a positive attitude will definitely help, even when you discover there are certain things you really dislike like about your post-military life.
Here’s a few common things Veterans notice that they “hate” after they get out… and some tips for how to cope with them!
1.) Political (Over) Correctness
In the military you can’t always say exactly what’s on your mind, but you can usually let your feelings be clearly known. When there’s a problem in the workplace, it generally won’t fester for very long before it gets dealt with decisively. Why? Because personnel issues mess up morale and that’s not a situation that’s tolerated in the service. The mission comes before personal feelings or political correctness.
In the civilian world, workers may tiptoe around a problem and be less likely to confront each it head-on. By the same token, supervisors might be less willing to sit everyone down to talk about whatever the beef is about.
But in the military, supervisors act not only as managers but as frontline leaders who need to fix problems at the lowest level possible… including “Human Resources” issues. So it can be hard for Veterans to adjust when this style no longer exists at their workplace.
How to cope: The fact is, you probably got used to a level of candor you won’t necessarily be able to expect on the outside. But when you see an issue that needs to be resolved, if no one else is taking the lead, find a way to do it tactfully and by the book.
Don’t become complacent. Use your experience to get the discussion moving so the conflict can be acknowledged and handled appropriately.
In the military, if you aren’t sure how to do a task or what to do in a daily situation, you can look it up! All these countless policies, regulations, technical orders, memorandums, etc. may get frustrating because of the constant reading required to keep up and stay in compliance. But at least they typically eliminate any vagueness or ambiguity (I said “typically,” not always!).
Policies, in the end, can make issues much easier to handle because you can simply reference the text and say, “Look, there’s your answer, that’s what we’re going to do.” It doesn’t have to become a debate, there’s no need for a meeting. The directives are there in black and white.
With civilian business entities, such blatant guidance may not always exist. The branches of the military have been around for decades and employ hundreds of thousands of people. In order to be standardized, policies needed to exist from the beginning, and are always being fine-tuned. But most companies only have general policies which may not be specific or updated, or might even conflict.
How to cope: If you’ve looked and can’t find anything in writing to outline how to handle a certain situation, ask Human Resources or whichever department might cover it. If there’s a Policies and Procedures section, or a Records Manager, shoot them an email and try to track it down. Often, policies do exist but aren’t as readily available as they were in the military, because there’s just not the same attention-to-detail or desire to enforce strict adherence to the rules.
If you still can not find something, pose the question to your supervisor in email and ask for a clear response in writing. Then you have a record of it.
3.) Chain of Command
The military operates with an extremely clear hierarchy. Everyone knows exactly the rank of everyone around them, because it’s literally displayed on our uniforms! Having this clear-cut chain of command may be frustrating at times, when there’s an “obstacle” in your way and you want to discuss something with the higher-ups. But at least you know exactly who’s who, and you know your place in the food chain, no matter where you go.
In the civilian world, not so much. The food chain still exists, but it takes longer to figure out and sometimes it’s more complex than it appears. In the military, personnel shift around constantly, but in civilian jobs many employees have been in the same positions for decades and have amassed a certain level of influence beyond the scope of their actual job. This can be tough to figure out who to go to when you need to deal with an issue without stepping on toes.
How to cope: Like it or not, you’ll have to adapt to the new environment. If there’s an organizational chart for your civilian place of employment, get a copy and study it. Put names to faces, read the bios and backgrounds of management, and do your homework! Talk to your coworkers and ask questions if you don’t know who everybody is and what their role is in the organization.
4.) Being Paid to Be Fit
Let’s be honest, not everyone wants to take off work to go to the gym. But in the military, the emphasis on fitness is necessary and palpable. Subjectively, you have to look professional in uniform; objectively, you must pass regular fitness exams which include performing a minimum number of certain exercises in proper form, plus maintaining a minimum run time and waist measurement.
All that takes a long-term dedication to regular exercise. To ensure personnel are staying in shape, most units offer group physical training sessions and/or offer duty time (when the mission allows) for folks to hit the gym.
Most civilian jobs aren’t going to do this! As a result, many Veterans let their personal fitness slide. Weight is gained, muscle tone is lost, and all too soon your former fitness regiment is a faded memory.
How to cope: It’s back on you to manage your own exercise schedule now. Your civilian employer may not care a bit, but they shouldn’t have to. Personal fitness is an individual commitment. It’s for our own sake, so we’ll be healthier for ourselves and our loved ones.
The military looks after us when we’re in. Once we’re out, we have to look after ourselves! So hold yourself accountable and stay active!
5.) The Giant Global Family
The Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with 2.87 million employees, according to MSN. But Walmart has nearly as many employees, yet isn’t considered the “family” that the military is.
One reason is that military personnel don’t stay static; we constantly move from one duty assignment to another, switching coworkers and supervisors, encountering new team environments, and adapting to whatever the new mission throws at us. Sometimes we’re sent to live overseas at a permanent base or in a deployed location. This creates an even stronger bond when you’re far from home and going through a shared experience with your peers. In austere or hazardous conditions, that bond can be forged to even last a lifetime.
Chances are, the friendships made in an average civilian job will not be as close or as enduring as those we make in the military.
How to cope: Your giant military family still exists, even when you’re outside of the service. As a Veteran, you’ll always be linked to your former branch of service, no matter how long you were in. This doesn’t mean you have to show up to the local VFW every week for Taco Tuesday, but the point is: how much of a connection you wish to maintain is totally up to you!
In the meantime, don’t forget—you may’ve left the service, but the service is still inside of you. Bring your enthusiasm, motivation, and leadership to your new workplace. You may be surprised at how fast you’ll make new, lasting connections!