This is the time of year when we reflect on the many things that those who have served in the armed forces have given to our country. But as service members like me know, serving in the military can give you back just as much. Serving as a Navy reservist gave me many skills that I brought with me to the workplace. But, at the same time, I could never have fulfilled my service without a supportive employer.
I joined the Navy in college, because I saw the reserves as a great opportunity to reduce my college loans. I wanted to do something completely different from my daily business classes, so I joined the Navy’s Construction force, known as the SeaBees (construction battalion). I spent my time outside operating heavy equipment, but I was learning skills that would be incredibly valuable to me in the workforce. I learned to work with people at every level of the chain of command. I was also given a lot of responsibility at a young age, which gave me confidence. And I learned that things didn’t always work out, so I needed to be flexible and have a plan B.
When I first joined the Navy, there were still a lot of roles that were not open to women. Women had only recently been integrated into the Seabees, so I was one of a very few women in a male-dominated field. That kind of situation challenges you. You learn very quickly if you’re able to be adaptable and rise to the challenges, or if you’re not capable of handling conflict. I found I was more than ready to handle that conflict. I’ve been pleased to see the evolution of women’s role in the military, but I am grateful, in many ways, that I faced that challenge. I think that without adversity, you don’t learn fortitude, which is a valuable skill to have.
Fortitude certainly helped me when I became a military spouse. My husband, who I had met during an operation in Puerto Rico, was active-duty and often away with his job as Seal team support. He could be gone for a day or three weeks—I never knew. When I started a full-time job, I was still in the reserves as well as getting an MBA—and I’d just had a baby. That was a challenge: I was basically a single parent. I needed the support of my family and friends. And I also needed the support of my workplace.
The most important thing I learned during that time was to be transparent with my employer. I needed their support, and to get that I needed them to understand what I was going through. In my six years here at Sodexo, I’ve encouraged many reservists to be up front with their managers. Most of the reservists are surprised by how understanding their managers are. Many people have served in the military or have family that have served, so they are very receptive to what reservists need. I worked for Sodexo for the final two years of my military career, and it offered me the flexibility to leave early on a Friday if I was going for training. While all companies are supposed to do that, not all of them are so supportive.
I know of a Sodexo employee who is a reservist, and had to do an overseas post for more than three years. When he returned, there was no question that he’d get his job back but the company also helped him get re-acclimated to civilian life.
Support like that is crucial to ensuring employees can serve their country in the reserves. If companies are willing to offer flexibility, they will be repaid with employees who bring valuable skills to the workplace.
What are you doing to support reservists in your office? Share in the comments section.