According to the latest government statistics, there are over two million veterans in the UK and around 13,000 individuals who leave the armed forces every year.

The statistics show that the majority of those leaving service are of working age, actively seeking new employment opportunities.  Despite this, research shows that some veterans find it difficult to transition into civilian life. Finding and retaining new employment is an area where difficulties can arise for some veterans. Understanding how the skills that have been gained in service can transfer into everyday life can be challenging.

Recent research by YouGov shows that the majority of employers are interested in having veterans in their organisation. Those already employing veterans reported that they can be a highly valuable asset, as they benefit from a diverse range of skills and attributes which are of high value in the workplace including strong work ethic, problem solving, leadership, communication and analytical skills.

There can also be other benefits to employing veterans. Many employers are unaware that when hiring veterans in their first civilian position after service, employers benefit from a National Insurance contribution (NIC) holiday, providing them with relief from secondary NICs for the first twelve months of the veteran’s employment.

In spite of these benefits, employers often struggle to recruit and retain veterans in their workforce. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that a survey conducted by NHS England found that over half of veterans, active military personnel and associated representatives reported currently having, or having had, a mental health condition (52%) or a physical health condition (54%). Moreover, almost two-thirds of respondents (60%) said that they found it difficult to ask for help with mental health issues, making it challenging for employers to identify issues and provide support.

How can employers approach the employment of veterans to improve levels of recruitment and retention for the benefit of their business?

Attracting candidates

Recognising the unique circumstances of veterans, in October 2023, the Government published “An Employer’s Guide to Hiring Veterans.”  This includes recommendations of best practice when hiring veterans.  This is a good starting point for any employer who is looking to attract veterans to their business.

In line with the recommendations in this guide, a number of large UK employers now offer tailored recruitment programmes for veterans. As an example, Barclays operates a Military Talent Scheme which provides supported opportunities for veterans to rotate between various areas of the business allowing them to build up their experience and identify the area best suited for their new career.

For smaller businesses, engaging with the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) is a good first step. CTP provides support to individuals leaving service and connects employers to those looking for work.  This includes support to employers in advertising vacancies in a way that is accessible and understandable to service users of the CTP.

Another important way to attract veterans to your business is to become “Forces Friendly”. Organisations may choose to sign a voluntary pledge, known as the Armed Forces Covenant, to demonstrate support for veterans.  More than 11,000 organisations have signed up.  This can be a useful tool in recruitment campaigns, especially on social media, which is becoming increasingly important in this area.

Applications and interviews

As well as taking steps to attract applications, employers should also consider reviewing their recruitment processes to ensure that they remain accessible to veterans. Employers should avoid using industry-specific language which veterans may be unfamiliar with.  The interview process should allow veterans to speak openly about their skills and strengths so that employers can consider transferrable skills.

Where an employer has former military personnel within its organisation already, consulting with them and including them on the interview panel maybe useful. Specific training or guidance for hiring managers (for example, within a recruitment policy) may also help to ensure that recruitment processes do not inadvertently exclude veterans from applying for roles, or from demonstrating their true qualities within their applications or interviews.

Potential Legal pitfalls

A recruitment campaign targeted at veterans can be useful.  However, employers should remain conscious of their duty to operate recruitment practices in a non-discriminatory way. For example, it is possible that an employer which applied a policy of recruiting veterans ahead of other more suitable candidates may be committing sex or race discrimination given that most veterans are white males.  Employers need to take a balanced approach.

Employers should also be mindful that more than half of veterans will be affected by a physical or mental health condition, which amount to a “disability” for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.  To avoid claims for disability discrimination, employers will need to consider whether any adjustments should be made to the recruitment process to enable the individual to effectively participate in the process. Employers will also need to ensure that they do not base decisions about recruitment on the fact that a candidate has a particular medical condition.

Retaining and supporting veterans in the workplace

Once an employer has recruited a veteran into their workforce, they should then turn their mind as to how they can best support their wellbeing alongside their career development. This minimises the risk of associated problems – such as sickness and absenteeism – and maximises the prospects of retention. It will also help ensure that the employer meets its duty of care to do all that it reasonably can to support its employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

It is crucial that employers foster a supportive workplace environment.  In this regard, employers should consider:

  1. Increasing awareness. All staff should be aware of the potential issues which veterans may be navigating and should seek to take an empathetic approach towards this. Specific training and guidance for line managers and HR staff may help to develop and reaffirm this understanding. On the other hand, it is equally important that staff do not make negative assumptions about veterans or their capabilities, and they should be considered for development opportunities and promotions in the same way as other staff.
  2. Mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is an ideal way to help veterans transition into civilian life whilst simultaneously providing them with workplace support and guidance. This experience may also help to develop them into mentors to new staff in the future.
  3. Support network. A strong internal support network such as a peer network can also go a long way to helping veterans transition into the civilian workplace. It also provides them with an opportunity to share their experiences and provide their own support for the benefit of other staff.
  4. Mental health resources. Employers should ensure that appropriate mental health assistance is always available, for example, through an employee assistance programme or counselling services. A confidential and external resource such as this may be particularly beneficial given the number of veterans who say that they find it difficult to ask for mental health support, which can often be more daunting when it involves speaking to people that they know or work alongside.

Handling issues

In the event that issues do arise, it is important that these are handled compassionately, sensitively and proportionately.

Sickness absence

In particular, veterans suffering from mental and/or physical health conditions may be at an increased risk of sickness-related absences. In these circumstances, employers should adopt an understanding approach, maintaining appropriate contact with the employee throughout their absence and encouraging them to provide updates about their condition.

Employers should also consider whether an Occupational Health referral might be appropriate and whether they can make any relevant adjustments, such as by offering a phased return to work, a temporary variation in working hours or a temporary alteration or reallocation of duties. A “return to work meeting” can often be helpful to establish the extent to which the employee is ready to return and to agree a plan moving forwards.

In cases of persistent or prolonged sickness absence, employers should remain understanding and continue to consider whether any adjustments can be made to overcome the issue, or whether any alternative vacancies may be more suitable. Before making any decisions, employers should meet and consult with the employee and consider whether obtaining medical evidence may help to establish the extent of the issue and what support can be provided. Ideally, this approach would be reflected within the employer’s sickness absence policy, which should be applicable to mental and physical ill-health alike.

In some circumstances, a veteran employee may benefit from a longer-term flexible working arrangement, in which case employers should consider to what extent they are able to facilitate such an arrangement without compromising their own business operations.

Where the employee’s condition may amount to a “disability” under the Equality Act 2010, employers should tread especially carefully to avoid any allegations of disability discrimination. Similarly, employers should also keep in mind their duty to make reasonable adjustments for “disabled” persons, which may include appropriate adjustments to their working methods or working patterns.

Alcohol and drugs

Research also shows that veterans are much more likely to struggle with substance dependency compared to the rest of the workforce. Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans, found that as many as 43% of veterans had a problem with alcohol misuse, with more suffering from a dependency on other substances.

To help combat this issue, employers should take a sympathetic approach by encouraging individuals to seek specialist help and offering their support. In this way, employers should treat substance dependency in a similar way to any other illnesses, considering whether it would be appropriate to make an external referral (such as to Occupational Health or a treatment programme) as well as any appropriate adjustments or support which they can provide. This increases the chances of the employee making a recovery and returning to their full duties as soon as possible.

However, this is only possible where the employee’s dependency is identified and addressed. All staff, particularly line managers, should be alert to apparent changes in a veteran employee’s performance or behaviour and should be encouraged to report their concerns. Employers may wish to draw attention to this topic via a substance misuse policy which reflects its commitment to supporting those suffering from substance dependency issues, thereby encouraging self-reporting and reporting of others.

Whilst an addiction to alcohol or non-prescribed drugs is expressly excluded from being classed as a “disability” under the Equality Act 2010, other conditions which are caused by that addiction – such as depression caused by a substance dependency – may still fall within the definition and trigger the special protections afforded to “disabled” workers.

Family members

And employers should also remember that these issues are not confined to veterans themselves. A similar approach should be taken in respect of family members of veterans and those in active service. In particular, staff who are related to or caring for current or former military personnel may be more likely to request compassionate leave, statutory carer’s leave or the statutory right to take time off to care for dependents. Employers should have policies in place which address exactly when and how these rights can be exercised.

Explore Pathfinder International’s resources for military enthusiasts

For readers with a keen interest in military history and veteran support, exploring resources like Pathfinder International’s website can offer valuable insights. Pathfinder International specialises in logistics and operational support across military, humanitarian, and commercial sectors, making it a rich source of information for understanding the challenges and successes of veterans transitioning into civilian life.

The Pathfinder International website provides several useful resources:

  • Free Email Newsletter: Stay updated with the latest news and insights directly in your inbox by subscribing to their free email newsletter at Pathfinder International Newsletter.
  • Paid Subscriptions: Access deeper insights and exclusive content through their digital and print subscription options, available at Pathfinder International Membership.
  • Vacancy Advertising: Employers looking to attract veterans to their workforce can explore advertising opportunities tailored to this audience, helping bridge the gap between veterans seeking employment and businesses seeking their valuable skills. Learn more at Pathfinder International Advertising Opportunities.

Summary

Overall, veterans can be a highly valuable asset to any business. However, in order to get the very best out of veterans during the recruitment process and in the workplace, employers must be alive to the challenges which they may face. Whilst it is not appropriate to stereotype all veterans as facing challenges in adapting to civilian life, where a veteran’s mental and/or physical health conditions may pose issues for an individual, the employer should seek to resolve these through an understanding and compassionate approach, seeking external advice and support where appropriate. To this end, employers should ensure that all staff understand the unique sensitivities of veterans and are able to identify when they require support and how to provide it, and that their training and policies reflect this approach.

Ethan Diver
Ethan Diver

Ethan Diver is a Solicitor in the Employment Department at Taylor Walton’s Luton office. He advises on employment law matters such as contracts, policies, settlement agreements, disciplinary procedures, employment status issues, and tribunal claims. Ethan also supports corporate transactions involving TUPE. He provides clear, detailed advice and keeps clients informed. Experienced with both senior executives and corporate clients, Ethan understands their distinct needs. Before joining Taylor Walton as a Trainee Solicitor in 2021 and qualifying in 2023, he gained experience at leading corporate law firms and barristers’ chambers in London.