Many of us are familiar with Memorial Day as a national holiday and the unofficial start of the summer season. It’s a holiday synonymous with family reunions, cookouts in balmy evenings, and festive parades. But not everyone knows the significance behind this holiday, nor why it’s well worth celebrating in the workplace. 

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that is bound to be marked on the calendars of HR professionals. And yet, it can be challenging to imagine appropriate ways to commemorate the holiday in the workplace - especially if your organization hires veterans. 

Worry not, HR pros. As your dependable sidekick in seasonal gifting at the office, Gifted has rounded up some ideas about how to commemorate Memorial Day in the workplace. But first, a brief history lesson. 

Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? 

Memorial Day has its origins in the conclusion of the Civil War which, at the time, had claimed more lives than any other conflict in US history. The loss was so great that it required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. In the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities began holding informal tributes to the fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and other offerings in the Spring. 

We don’t know for sure where exactly this tradition originated. Some records indicate that one of the earliest Memorial Day ceremonies was conducted by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina, just under a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. 

In any case, on May 5th 1868, the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans by the name of General John A. Logan designated May 30th as a day to decorate the graves of fallen comrades “who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land”. The date was selected because it did not fall on the anniversary of any particular battle. The purpose of the holiday was to commemorate all fallen soldiers and was, at the time, known as Decoration Day. 

Memorial Day as we know it became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or attending memorials, hosting family gathers, and participating in parades to pay their respects to the US personnel who gave their lives in battle. Memorial Day is now held on the last Monday of May each year so that federal employees can enjoy a long weekend. 

Why veterans make great employees 

Memorial Day may be about the US soldiers who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice, but the holiday also invites us to celebrate the soldiers who are either still in service or are retired veterans who have reentered civil society. Veterans often struggle to find civilian jobs following their military service, and veteran unemployment is a growing issue in the country. 

Veteran unemployment: a closer look at the numbers 

According to a 2022 report from CBS News, finding a job after their military service ends affects nearly 200 000 veterans a year. Reports from the Pew Research Center reflect that only one in four veterans have a job lined up for them after they exit the armed forces. A 2016 US Chamber of Commerce Foundation study found that 53% of veterans are unemployed for four months or more after they leave active service. The cultural discrepancies between military service and civilian life may be partially responsible for the struggle to find gainful employment. 

“Business is a new language, you know?” Major General Dustin “Dusty” Shultz tells CBS News. “In the military, we have our own terminology. I work in the G-357 and to most people, that doesn’t mean much. But if I tell somebody, you know, ‘I work in the operations center of the Army’, that means a lot.” Following their years in service, veterans are in a position where they have to literally translate their skills from one specialization into another. That can be a barrier to entry into most civilian workplaces. 

Some of the most significant obstacles which make it challenging for veterans to enter civilian jobs include the following. 

  • A lack of higher education - seeing as so many soldiers enlist as young as 18, few have a four-year college degree to list on their CV
  • A lack of work experience - because veterans build their careers in the military, many employers (perhaps mistakenly) decide that they are not qualified for anything higher than an entry-level position 
  • Many veterans experience difficulty reintegrating into civilian society. There is a need for more abundant and accessible programs which facilitate their holistic reintegration into civilian housing, education, healthcare, employment, and more 

Nevertheless, what veterans lack in civilian experience, they more than make up for with a specialized skill set that can be put into service of any organization. It’s time that we started thinking of military service like we would any regular job history. 

Despite a lack of civilian experience, veterans have valuable, transferable skills and qualities 

The challenge is not in rapidly upskilling or educating veterans - that is an impossible task. Instead, the challenge is in reframing the way that prospective employers regard military service as work experience that equips veterans with a transferable skillset that would make them an asset to the organization. For one, the general skills and discipline that veterans acquire during their years of service make them loyal and hardworking employees. 

As one man who used to run a small supermarket says of a veteran he hired to be a general floor manager, “Because of his general military experience, he was invaluable to me. Honest to a fault but incredibly disciplined and smart, he saved me and the store a lot of money because of his vigilance and his sense of duty.” 

Want to hear more about why vets are valuable employees? Read “4 Reasons Military Veterans Can Make Great Employees” by Gifted. 

Ways to celebrate Memorial Day at the office 

Your workplace is likely either to have veterans among the staff or to have employees with family members who served in the military. Memorial Day is an opportune occasion to commemorate and celebrate these employees. Here are a few ideas you can use to commemorate the holiday in a meaningful way before everyone enjoys the festivities of the long weekend. 

  1. Host a team barbeque in the week. Usher in the start of summer in style and pay respects to the brave soldiers who dedicated their lives and careers to our safety by sharing an outdoor meal. It’s a great way to boost team morale!
  2. Attend a parade as a team. If there is a Memorial Day parade happening nearby in your city, take a few hours to participate in the festivities. 
  3. Make a list of employees whose families have served the nation and host a lunch in their honor. If you work remotely, you can gift a virtual lunch through Gifted’s - it’s free to add family members to your employee gifting platform. 
  4. Red poppies are a symbol of support for the armed forces - give out paper poppies to pin to shirt lapels as a way to commemorate Memorial Day in the office and share the history of the holiday with employees. 
  5. Make a team donation to an NGO that does work for the well-being of veterans - this is a good option if your team is entirely remote and hosting in-person events is a struggle. 

Make Memorial Day a happy memory with Gifted 

However your workplace decides to celebrate Memorial Day, Gifted is here to make it that much easier for HR professionals. Never miss a holiday with our built-in calendar. Automate your gifting campaigns with easy-to-use templates. Budget with complete transparency using our reporting tools. Integrate seamlessly into your existing HR platforms to bring your new sidekick wherever you need it most. Do it all and more with Gifted.