Recognising the unique challenges of employees with military spouses: Building a supportive workplace culture

Stephanie Thomas

Written By Stephanie Thomas

31st July 2023

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Recognising the unique challenges of employees with military spouses: Building a supportive workplace culture

In today’s diverse workforce, it’s crucial for managers to understand and address the unique challenges faced by employees and to create a supportive environment that recognises and provides support for individuals. By doing so, you can foster loyalty, retention, and overall employee well-being.

In this blog, we’re delving into how organisations can provide support for employees with military spouses, who often face a unique set of challenges that may impact their working lives These could include deployments, frequent relocations, and extended periods of separation from their partners, which at times can significantly impact their ability to perform at their best at work .

Recognising the challenges

Whilst many organisations have established processes in place to support ex-military personnel transitioning to civilian life, there is often less support for the spouses of active service personnel. Military spouses frequently experience significant disruptions in their careers and personal lives, with both aspects at risk of being put on hold when major life decisions become heavily dictated by their partner’s military career.

For military spouses who are employed, many face a lack of understanding and accommodation of their unique needs, which may include being the sole child carer. Despite not being considered a protected characteristic, a military spouse can often feel discriminated against or overlooked because of the impact of their partner’s work.

In the current recruitment market, organisations may inadvertently miss out on a large, well-qualified talent pool by not having the right strategies in place to support military spouses effectively in the workplace. The first step organisations can take in supporting employees with military spouses is to gain better understanding and acknowledge the unique challenges they face.

Below, we explore practical strategies organisations can put in place to assist employees whose partners are in the military, ensuring their success, and contributing overall to a positive workplace culture.

Cultivate a culture of flexibility

One of the primary challenges faced by military spouses is the responsibility of ‘solo-parenting’ when their partner is away on military duties. This is often a barrier to military spouses finding and staying in employment, as they need flexibility and sometimes unexpectedly so, due to the nature of their partners role.

During extended periods of their partner’s absence, military spouses may find themselves without a nearby support network of family or friends. This can be an additional strain, especially financially, if childcare is required.

However, since the pandemic and the shift to a new way of working, which can often be done remotely, the rate of unemployment has dropped among military spouses for the first time. Organisations that prioritise flexible working arrangements to accommodate the needs of employees, like those with military spouses, are tapping into a rich pool of resource who are skilled, resilient and available to work.

By embracing flexibility, employers demonstrate their commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive environment for all.

Assessing and promoting supportive policies

Implementing a flexible working policy is just one way to support an employee with a military partner. It is essential to have and promote other policies to create a comprehensive and supportive environment, including:

  • Shared parental leave policies: These policies are particularly important for employees with partners in the military, but they are also for employees whose spouse is in the military and may not typically be the person to take parental leave when having a baby or adopting. Shared parental leave can be taken in several ways:
    • The birth parent or primary adopter can return to work early from maternity or adoption leave and take shared parental leave at a later date.
    • The birth parent or primary adopter can return to work, and their partner takes shared parental leave.
    • Both parents can be off at the same time.
    • Both parents can share shared parental leave evenly and be off at different times.
    • Both parents can return to work at the same time and take shared parental leave at a later date.
  • Ordinary parental leave: Often overlooked, this statutory right is available to parents with children under the age of 18. Parental leave is unpaid, and the entitlement is up to 18 weeks of leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. There is a limit of 4 weeks of parental leave per year for each child, unless the employer agrees otherwise.
  • Holiday policies: Employers should allow for leave to be taken around relocations, deployments, and R&R periods. Employers can go a step further by recognising that employees may require additional time off beyond their annual holiday allowance. Organisations can consider incorporating military spouses in a special leave policy.
  • Robust wellbeing policies: Given the various challenges military spouses may face, such as heightened stress, anxiety, and sadness, it is crucial to have robust wellbeing policies in place. Organisations can consider having trained mental health first aiders who are well-versed in the specific challenges faced by military spouses.

By taking a proactive approach to supporting employees with the unique challenges they face outside of work, HR professionals and business leaders can create a workplace culture that embraces diversity, inclusivity, and employee well-being. This will not only contribute to the employees’ success but also enhance employee engagement and improve the overall performance of the organisation.

Empower your line managers to engage your employees

Organisations comprise a diverse group of people, each living and experiencing different things at different stages of their lives. To effectively manage employees, managers must not only be well-versed in the organisations policies and processes, but also be well-equipped to handle the intricacies of employees’ lives that intertwine with the daily management of people. While such circumstances are typically considered when formal action has arisen, they should also be an integral part of your managers’ toolkit when overseeing their teams on a day-to-day basis.

Providing training to managers, empowering them with skills and techniques to navigate difficult conversations, foster emotional intelligence, and undergo mental health first aid training, enhances their ability to handle situations confidently when they arise. As a result, they can better support their teams and understand the unique challenges employees may face, leading to improved employee engagement and an enhanced overall employee experience.

As well as providing training, managers also need the right tools. Managers are already busy, so when confronted with unfamiliar or unique situations that they may not have experienced before, they may resort to contacting an already stretched HR team for guidance and support. However, by implementing tools that empower managers to self-serve these situations without HR in the first instance, their confidence grows, as does the employee’s confidence in their manager. With the right tools in place, empowering managers to handle employee relations issues consistently, autonomously, and effectively, frees up HR to focus on more strategic objectives.

Empowering line managers to take on more responsibility for employee relations matters is an effective strategy for cultivating a healthy and agile workforce. With our empower® software managers are taken on guided journeys, where they self-serve through the processes, in line with your company policies, only involving HR where you need them to be involved.

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