Defense Medical Research and Development
Development and Evaluation of Veteran Supportive Supervisor Training (VSST): Improving Transition for Veterans in the Workplace
Posted July 6, 2018
Leslie Hammer, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University
Dr. Leslie Hammer
In the post-9/11 era, thousands of Veterans return home from deployments in combat zones around the world and/or separate from their military Service and seek to join (or rejoin) the civilian workforce. The transition to a civilian workplace after military Service comes with unique challenges. Although there are incentive programs to encourage recruitment and hiring of Veterans, little has been done to help integrate Veterans into the civilian workforce, increase their retention, and improve their work experience. Focus groups with Veterans have revealed that they encounter numerous frustrations with their civilian work experience. With fiscal year 2011 funding from the Joint Program Committee-5/Military Operational Medicine Research Program (JPC-5/MOMRP), Dr. Leslie Hammer sought to develop and test a Veteran-Supportive Supervisor Training (VSST) intervention to improve reintegration of Veterans following deployment. This intervention combines supervisory training and behavioral self-monitoring with the goal of increasing supervisor support for returning Veterans, thereby improving the health and well-being of Service members and their families.
Between 2012 and 2017, Dr. Hammer and her research team conducted a randomized control trial, the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe; https://servestudy.org/), to develop and test the effectiveness of the VSST. They recruited 42 organizations of various sizes across the state of Oregon to participate in the trial and randomized 35 of them to the VSST training program or the control group. In total, 497 Service members from across the 35 organizations completed an online survey related to their work, family, Service and health. The trial had an impressive retention rate, with 352 Service members completing two additional follow-up surveys at 3 and 9 months. Partners and spouses of the participating Service members were also invited to participate in the baseline survey and a family study.
As described on the SERVe website, 928 supervisors from the participating organizations completed training to help them understand the “inherent strengths that employees with military experience possess, recognize some of the unique challenges that Veterans and Service members face when transitioning to the civilian sector, and to adopt practices that support Veterans’ and Service members’ family lives and performance at work, employment retention, health, and well-being.” The training centered on three primary content areas. The first area provided supervisors with background information about military culture and the unique needs of Veterans reintegrating into a civilian workplace, as well as the many benefits they bring from their Service. The second area focused on how military Service can affect Veterans in both the civilian work realm and the non-work realm. The third area focused on fundamental managerial practices, such as providing clear resources, feedback and coaching, and performance support, and tailoring these practices for a Veteran population. These three topics were presented as a computer-based training that required roughly an hour to complete and allowed supervisors to set their own pace. In order to assist with transfer of what was learned during the training into actual behavior, supervisors tracked the number of supportive behaviors they engaged in with their employees each day for 2 weeks.
At the 9-month follow-up, Dr. Hammer and her team determined that the training was effective for Service members who had greater support from supervisors and coworkers at the baseline time point. Veterans reported better work performance, lower turnover intentions, better health, and less functional impairment. Most (81%) of the 928 supervisors who completed the training rated it as “good” or “excellent,” and 95% rated it as “useful” to “extremely useful” for their work. Results from the post-test demonstrated that the supervisors had significantly increased their knowledge. Additionally, supervisors with no prior military experience reported experiencing positive changes in their views of the military and increasing their family-supportive supervisor behaviors.
The study findings add important data to existing research and theory on leadership, training, and social support and suggest that organizations can implement strategies to improve their support for Veterans in the workplace. Furthermore, the training can be extended to Veterans transitioning to the civilian workplace after future deployments to combat zones.
Hammer LB, Wan WH, Brockwood KJ, Mohr CD, and Carlson KF. 2017. Military, Work, and Health Characteristics of Veterans and Reservists from the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe). Military Psychology. 29:491-512.
Mohr CD, McCabe CT, Haverly SN, Hammer LB, and Carlson KF. 2018. Drinking Motives and Alcohol Use: The SERVe Study of U.S. Current and Former Service Members. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 79:79-87.
Perry ML, Hammer LB, Bodner TE, Anger WK, and Brockwood K. 2018. Development and Validation of a Veteran-Supportive Supervisor Behavior Measure. Military Behavioral Health. DOI: 10.1080/21635781.2018.1460284.
Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022