Reserve chief: Communications key to successful employer relations
December 5, 2013
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 5, 2013) -- "We've had some challenges with employers, and most of that could improve with better communications," said the chief of the Army Reserve and commander of the Army Reserve Command.
By and large, civilian employers love their Army Reserve Soldiers, but sometimes Reservists take advantage of their employers and even of their own family members, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley.
Talley spoke Dec. 5, at a Reserve Officers Association Defense Education forum titled "Supporting Employers in the Era of an Operational Reserve Force."
Soldiers take advantage, he explained, by volunteering for multiple deployments or assignments and they don't come clean about it with their employers or family members.
They game the system, he said, often to get higher pay by being activated.
"I've been known to call these Soldiers out and make them call their family members and confess that they weren't involuntarily mobilized that second or third time, because that violates Defense Department policy. Then, I make them come clean with respect to the CEO or leader of their company. And if they don't make the call, I help them confess."
The record for a Reservist deploying is seven, Talley thinks. He calls these Soldiers "deployment babies," but not as a term of endearment.
"Thankfully, we don't have many of them," he continued. "It doesn't have to be a huge problem to be a huge perspective problem."
Talley's take on this small but nagging problem was bolstered by a 2011 RAND study conducted for DOD that considered the effect on employers of an increasingly mobilized reserve-component force since 9/11.
The study, which included surveys and conversations with employers nationwide, found that by and large, employers are supportive of their Reservist workforce, said panel member Dr. Susan Gates, who was the lead author of the RAND report.
The report suggested better communications between Reservists and their employers, especially during the pre-deployment and deployment window, would mitigate duty-related impacts to employers and keep everyone in the loop.
Also, the report suggested that DOD should get more involved by standardizing and expanding communication with employers about duty-related absences of their Reserve employees and available resources, such as federal loans that might be available to employers if they are adversely impacted by a large numbers of their employees being activated.
DOD could also better explain to employers the appeals process, she added.
FINDING RIGHT BALANCE
The challenge is striking the right balance between duty as a Reservist, a civilian employee and as a family member, Talley said.
"That challenge is something only Reservists know too well. It's been strained and more challenging in recent years" with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Even today with the drawdown, he said, Reservists are serving in 30 countries and in all states and territories. And, there are some 20,000 Reservists now in direct support of the combatant commands.
"Reservists enjoy and thrive on this responsibility because they realize they're making a difference in the world," he said.
But, he cautioned, "We have to balance keeping them busy enough to be ready and relevant to the total force, but not too busy that it strains their family and civilian employers."
Reservists are indeed ready and relevant, Talley added. The Army's demand for skills provided by the Reserve "is high and will remain high.
"We provide the combat support and service support to the Army," he continued. "So if you're looking for attorneys, engineers, financial analysts, logisticians, medical -- they're not in the active Army or National Guard. They're in the Army Reserve."
Talley said he advocates expanding the Employer Partnership program and renaming it the Private-Public Partnership Office. He went on to explain how it works:
The Reserve already has some 5,000 agreements in place with companies as large as General Electric to small businesses.
"They tell us they want to hire Army Reserve Soldiers because they're physically fit, drug free, show up on time, are team or goal oriented and are very loyal to the leaders of their organization," Talley said. "And, they perform very, very well in stressful and unstructured situations. Simply put, they make great employees."
In turn, he said, civilian employers have stepped up to "help us mentor, coach and teach our Soldiers and family members the way the corporate world does this -- all without using DOD assets."
He provided some examples, including the financial guru Suze Orman helping Reservists with financial planning, fitness experts providing coaching and Coca-Cola and other companies sponsoring training projects in Africa, where Reservists are already engaged in humanitarian projects like bringing water to drought-stricken villagers.
"The idea is to get private companies to pay for projects that reinforce Title 10 training," Talley said.
The extra skills training corporations provide to Reservists, he added, makes them not only better Soldiers, but more marketable to their employers.
In his closing statement, Talley said, "We don't want you to have a job. We want you to have a career in the civilian sector and be a Soldier for life in the Army. To be a successful Army Reserve Soldier, you must be a leader in your family, a leader in the community and a leader in your civilian employer."
Other panel members were Ruth Samardick, director of National Programs, Department of Labor; Ron Jadin, chief financial officer, W.W. Grainger, Inc.; Dr. John Winkler, RAND; and Air Force Reserve Col. Barbara Carson. Carson also is deputy associate administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration.
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