25 May, 2023

Celebrating Memorial Day in the Office

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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 HRprofessionals. And yet, it can be challenging to imagine appropriate ways to commemorate theholiday in the workplace - especially if your organization hires veterans.Worry not, HR pros. As your dependable sidekick in seasonal gifting at the office, Gifted hasrounded up some ideas about how to commemorate Memorial Day in the workplace. But first, abrief 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 claimedmore lives than any other conflict in US history. The loss was so great that it required theestablishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. In the late 1860s, Americans in varioustowns and cities began holding informal tributes to the fallen soldiers by decorating their graveswith flowers and other offerings in the Spring.

We don’t know for sure where exactly this tradition originated. Some records indicate that one ofthe earliest Memorial Day ceremonies was conducted by a group of formerly enslaved people inCharleston, 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 bythe name of General John A. Logan designated May 30th as a day to decorate the graves offallen comrades “who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whosebodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land”. The date wasselected because it did not fall on the anniversary of any particular battle. The purpose of theholiday 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 Americansobserve 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 inbattle. Memorial Day is now held on the last Monday of May each year so that federalemployees 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, butthe holiday also invites us to celebrate the soldiers who are either still in service or are retiredveterans who have reentered civil society. Veterans often struggle to find civilian jobs followingtheir 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 affectsnearly 200 000 veterans a year. Reports from the Pew Research Center reflect that only one infour veterans have a job lined up for them after they exit the armed forces. A 2016 US Chamberof Commerce Foundation study found that 53% of veterans are unemployed for four months ormore 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, thatdoesn’t mean much. But if I tell somebody, you know, ‘I work in the operations center of theArmy’, that means a lot.” Following their years in service, veterans are in a position where theyhave to literally translate their skills from one specialization into another. That can be a barrier toentry into most civilian workplaces.

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

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

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

Despite a lack of civilian experience, veterans have valuable, transferable skillsand 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 serviceas work experience that equips veterans with a transferable skillset that would make them anasset to the organization. For one, the general skills and discipline that veterans acquire duringtheir 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 generalfloor manager, “Because of his general military experience, he was invaluable to me. Honest toa fault but incredibly disciplined and smart, he saved me and the store a lot of money becauseof his vigilance and his sense of duty.”

Want to hear more about why vets are valuable employees? Read “4 Reasons Military VeteransCan 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 withfamily members who served in the military. Memorial Day is an opportune occasion tocommemorate and celebrate these employees. Here are a few ideas you can use tocommemorate the holiday in a meaningful way before everyone enjoys the festivities of the longweekend.

  1. Host a team barbeque in the week. Usher in the start of summer in style and pay respectsto the brave soldiers who dedicated their lives and careers to our safety by sharing anoutdoor 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 yourcity, 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 theirhonor. If you work remotely, you can gift a virtual lunch through Gifted’s - it’s free to addfamily members to your employee gifting platform.
  4. Red poppies are a symbol of support for the armed forces - give out paper poppies to pinto shirt lapels as a way to commemorate Memorial Day in the office and share the historyof the holiday with employees.
  5. Make a team donation to an NGO that does work for the well-being of veterans - this is agood 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 mucheasier for HR professionals. Never miss a holiday with our built-in calendar. Automate yourgifting campaigns with easy-to-use templates. Budget with complete transparency using ourreporting tools. Integrate seamlessly into your existing HR platforms to bring your new sidekickwherever you need it most. Do it all and more with Gifted.

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