Good employees, like good soldiers, go above and beyond the call of duty

Above and beyond the call: good employees, like good soldiers, go above and beyond the call of duty

Rebecca Zicarelli

“Companies need competitive people–employees who push the limit, work outside the box and raise the standards of performance,” says Bill Gaul, president and CEO of The Destiny Group, a recruitment agency in San Diego, Calif., that specializes in placing military people in civilian jobs. Good employees, like good soldiers, go above and beyond the call of duty.

It is that commitment to standards and performance that Archway Programs, a social-service non-profit in southern New Jersey, looked for when they hired Master Sgt. Tom Phillips, a member of the Air Force Reserve, to be MIS director in June 2000. When Phillips was called to active duty in 2002, the company was not prepared. “He’s a valuable member of our staff,” says CEO Dan Martin. “We didn’t have a formal policy to support his call to active duty.”

Archway, which has 500 employees but only a few who are in the National Guard or Reserve, is like thousands of companies that, in the post-9/11 world, face a new set of challenges when they have valuable employees who are Reservists or Guard members.

LTG James R. Helmly, USAR, chief, Army Reserve, described the cultural change required of today’s Reservists and Guard members in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee on April 7: “The culture must change from one that expects ‘one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer’ to one that understands ‘I am, first of all, a soldier, though not on daily active duty. Before and after a call to active duty, I am expected to live Army values; I am expected to prepare for mobilization as if I knew the day and the hour that it would come. I use my civilian skills and all that I am to perform my military duties. I understand that I must prepare to be called to active duty for various periods of time during my military career while simultaneously advancing my civilian career.'”

The cultural change Helmly described is not just a change for Reservists, it is a cultural shift for companies like Archway. After Phillips was activated, Archway not only met USERRA requirements, but went above and beyond the requirements. Martin called the board of directors together and they decided to give Phillips pay differential and to maintain his health benefits. “As a non-profit, it’s tough to do,” Martin says. “But the board decided it was important in this case.”

When Phillips was called to active duty, his responsibilities fell to his assistant, Karen Todd who, Phillips says, shouldered the burden like a soldier (see sidebar). According to Gaul, it’s important for employers to recognize the people like Todd who pick up the extra burden. “They shouldn’t feel dumped on. It’s important to send a briefing or a memo to employees who serve as backup. And send a copy to the service member; it shows the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.”

For some companies, going above and beyond USERRA is a long-standing tradition. MAJ Jeff Ruchie, a civil affairs officer with the Army Reserve 131 Civil Affairs Group, received his full pay from his job as a sales man for pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough (see sidebar). According to Schering-Plough spokesperson Leigh Ann Nicholson, senior director of global human resources strategy, communications & policy, it is a policy that has been in place during the current call-up, in Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Somalia.

“Sobering-Plough employees who are on active military Reserve duty related to a crisis enjoy job protection and continue to receive full pay and benefits–with no offset for military pay,” Nicholson says. Schering-Plough’s policy includes full health, dental, and life insurance, continued participation in retirement plans, and continued education benefits. Had Major Ruchie been attending college classes when be was called to Afghanistan, Schering-Plough would have absorbed the costs. Ruchie says Schering-Plough’s military-leave benefits, among the best in the nation, “left me able to focus on my mission. I wanted to work for a great company; I didn’t know about the great benefits until I was mobilized for Bosnia. The bottom line is that [at Schering Plough] I’m valued as an employee through action and behavior as opposed to words.”

Most businesses cannot afford the kind of generous benefits Schering-Plough provides. But Gaul says they can still reach out, keeping an employee on military leave connected. “Send a company newsletter, messages, care packages,” Gaul says. “Make them feel like they’re still part of the team. If important decisions are being made where they have expertise, seek their advice. Not all soldiers are on the front lines. They have down time. You may be able to have them participate in meetings through conference calls. These things go a long way toward building loyalty and support.”

It’s the kind of support that helped Guardsman Kevin Smith, a Sprint employee, get through his deployment in Bosnia from October 2002 to January 2004. Nine percent of Sprint’s 65,000 employees come from the military. Since 9/11, 842 of them have been deployed. Smith and his fellow soldiers receive pay differential and medical benefits. But they also receive attention. “I got close to 400 e-mails and cards from different groups, sometimes organizations that I didn’t even know,” Smith says. “I’d get one to two letters a week from Sprint employees.” While in Bosnia, the president of the telephone division made a point of visiting with Sprint employees deployed there. “It made me feel more important to Sprint,” Smith says. “It tells us that he does care about what happens.” And when Smith returned, retired CEO Gary Forsee welcomed him back. Throughout it all, Smith says he received a lot of information about what Sprint was doing, and that information helped make his return a joy.

“It’s all how it’s framed,” Gaul says. “Service members called up don’t have to be treated like emancipated employees. Their support network exists around that company. Employers are not losing someone; they’re gaining someone back who has additional experience.”

When 1st Sgt. Mike Britt (see sidebar) was called to service in the Pacific theater and for the 2002 Olympics in Utah, he knew what his employer, UPS, could do for him. Britt is automotive manager for the southeastern California district of UPS, and just one of the 1,742 Reservists with UPS who have been called to active duty since 9/11. Each received pay differential and health benefits for one year. According Go Kristen Patrella, UPS spokesperson, it’s not just the benefits that are important. “We recognize that families [of Reservists] need support. Our human-resources managers organize support networks to contact the Reservist’s family and find out if there’s anything they need. It’s a corporate culture of family.”

To Britt, that kind of support mattered. “They invited my wife to social events. It was very important to her,” he says. “My partners helped at home, made sure she had a ride to the repair facility when she had car trouble, helped with Christmas decorations. But the biggest thing was when I was called into action. My boss, Tom Campbell, said, ‘Go do what you need to do.'”

One of the toughest challenges Guard members and Reservists face is coming home and dealing with the changes that happened in the workplace while they were gone. Britt faced those changes at UPS. “While I was away, the district manager changed,” he says. It could have been awkward for Britt, but it was not. “Even though he’d never met me before, the new manager welcomed me back to a hero’s welcome.”

Sprint, UPS, and Schering-Plough are big companies with thousands of employees. Having a policy for employees who are activated is simply a part of managing human resources. For smaller companies such as Archway, a policy often waits for the day the call arrives. If that is the case at your company, Gaul advises sitting down and beginning with a discussion of USERRA. “It’s kind of like preventative care. When the situation happens, it’s not crisis management, it’s preventative management.”

That’s what 1 LT Angela Talano, ARNG, did. Talano is an analyst with Resolv, an Appleton, Wisc., company with just 30 employees that sells customer relations management software. Typical of an employee in a small company, Talano wears many hats: she trains clients, helps run the office, answers the phones, manages the office accounts, and does the hiring and firing. She says she knew that if she got called, it could trigger a crisis at Resolv.

Drawing on leadership skills she developed as a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, Talano sat down with her bosses and talked about what being a member of the Guard means. “We discussed the possibility of my getting mobilized and how that would work.” Although she has not been activated thus far, if the call does come, Talano knows it will be difficult for Resolv, but she says she knows they will survive, and her job will be there when she returns.

Talano nominated Resolv to be an ESGR Outstanding Employer, because “they don’t hassle me about taking the time.”

That respect, Gaul says, is the most basic way for an employer to go above and beyond for Guard members and Reservists. “Don’t make them use their vacation first; it rubs them the wrong way. Recognize that they’re working when they’re on drill; they’re not unplugged and relaxing.”

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” Gaul says. “With the recovering economy, employers are going to need skilled people. If a company is smart, it will view this as a recruiting opportunity. If returning soldiers have been treated well, they may well bring their contacts met while serving on board, and the company will prosper.”

Master Sgt. Tom Phillips, USAFR MIS Director, Archway Programs

When Tom Phillips was called to active duty for a year in 2002-03, he was the head of a two-person MIS department at Archway Programs. He says his assistant, Karen Todd, had only been with the department a few months, and she was pregnant. “I was concerned, not with her ability to do the job, but because of the state of her body,” Phillips says.

But Todd pulled through, serving her country by serving Archway, every bit as much as Phillips did while serving two 60-day deployments, one in Qatar and the other in United Arab Emirates, assisting in field fuel-systems repair tier the Air Force. Between Todd’s ability to carry the load while Phillips was on active duty for a year and Archway’s support with pay differential and health benefits, Phillips knew his company had gone above and beyond the call of duty. “I nonainated them for the ESGR Outstanding Employers award,” he says. “It was the only way I had of saying thanks. It was a small thing, but it was important.”

MAJ Jeff Ruchie, USAR, 131 Civil Affairs Group Pharmaceutical Sales Representative, Schering-Plough Corp.

In March, MAJ Jeff Ruchie returned from Afghanistan where he was, as he puts it, “helping stabilize the country, working on the infrastructure. We rebuilt boys’ schools, and built girls’ schools for the first time ever.”

Ruchie stresses how important it is for members of the Guard and Reserve to remember their obligations to their companies. “There’s going to be friction when you’ve got dual careers,” he says. “Find out what your company’s goals are. Are your goals as an individual, a family member, and your goals as a member of the Guard and Reserve aligned with those of your company?”

He stresses the importance of letting your employer know how you are doing while deployed. “Stay in touch with your peers, supervisors, and customers; it’s a two way street. Keep yourself in their thoughts.”

On September 11, 2003, Ruchie flew an American flag in Afghanistan, in honor of those lost two years before, in honor of his country, in honor of his company. In April, he saluted Schering-Plough, presenting them the flag as a symbol of his appreciation. “I was able to hand them a powerful symbol as a way of saying ‘thank you,'” he says.

1st Sgt. Mike Britt, ANG Rifle Company District Automotive Manager, United Parcel Service

Keeping a rifle company cool and collected while hunting for bad guys in the Philippines or protecting millions of guests at the Olympics takes focus and concentration. One of the biggest distractions many Reservists face is worries about their finances, particularly when their military pay is substantially lower than their civilian pay. When you are patrolling an arena full of civilians, it’s the kind of distraction no soldier needs.

“I was not only holding the line accountable, I was training younger officers and offering guidance to the company commander,” Britt says. “It required full focus. I didn’t have to worry about finances at home. UPS made the finances seamless.”

Because his co-workers at UPS stayed in touch, they knew he wasn’t happy living on MREs. Wherever he was in the world, supplies of home-made cookies and chocolate arrived, courtesy of his employer. “UPS has got the distribution thing down,” Britt says. “It would be there in two days; they’d track me down and get me that package.”

Rebecca Zicarelli is a freelance business writer and regular contributor to Mainebiz, Veterans Business Journal, and GI Jobs. She lives in Bethel, Maine, with her husband and two children, and she can be reached at rkzic@mega

COPYRIGHT 2004 Reserve Officers Association of the United States

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