The vast majority of American employers have a favorable attitude toward their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. That is according to a survey of employers conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD) between October 1999 and January 2000.
The 1999 Reserve Employer Survey is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,037 large and small employers nationwide. Larger firms were defined as those having 50 or more employees; smaller firms were those with fewer than 50 employees. The overall response rate was 45 percent.
"We are pleased that the survey yielded positive results," said Charles L. Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. "Employers appear to be coping with absences due to military obligations, although some concern was expressed about the increased workload that results for other employees during prolonged absences."
Cragin cautioned military leaders not to read too much into the results.
"The survey was conducted as a pilot project," Cragin said. "It was designed as a starting point to develop survey instruments, sampling procedures and data collection methods for use in future surveys."
During the past decade, DoD officials have had to rely on anecdotal information that the increased use of the National Guard and Reserve has been placing strains on civilian employers of reservists.
"We have been largely uninformed about the actual impact of increased deployments on employers and their businesses," Cragin said.
Although the vast majority of employers expressed a favorable attitude toward the reserve components, only six percent of all businesses in the country employ reservists. In addition, employers appear generally indifferent to the Reserve status of their job applicants.
"The survey revealed a general lack of knowledge about the Guard and Reserve," Cragin said. "More work will be needed to increase awareness and knowledge. Our ultimate goal is to help the department build better relationships between employers and their reservist-employees and gain a better understanding of the impact of military service on civilian employers."
Two sources of employers were used -- a nationally representative list of U.S. employers, taken from the Dun and Bradstreet Market Identifiers Lists, and a second list of employers provided by each of the seven military reserve components (RC).
Surveyed employers were grouped into one of three categories: those without RC employees (920 completed interviews); those whose RC employees were absent for no more than 10 days per year to perform military duties (466 completed interviews); and those whose RC employees were absent more than 10 days (651 completed interviews).
In surveying businesses that employ reservists, every effort was made to conduct the interview with someone who directly supervised reservist-employees. Of those interviewed:
- 96 percent were satisfied with their reservist-employees;
- 93 percent expressed a favorable attitude toward RC service;
- 92 percent have flexible policies to accommodate absences;
- 86 percent said reservist-employees are good team players;
- 27 percent have special pay programs for Reservist-employees.
While 90 percent of those interviewed felt that their reservist-employees keep them adequately informed about their military obligations, the survey also found that the higher the employee's level of military participation, the more likely the employer was to report not having received adequate notice.
Overall, a majority of employers indicated that absences due to military obligations were too long. Nearly one-half felt that absences over 14 days caused problems, while 80 percent were affected by absences of more than 30 days. Not surprisingly, the impact was greater on small businesses, with the most serious effect said to have been the increased workload on co-workers.
While more than three-quarters of employers were supportive of drills, annual training and absences to defend other countries or meet domestic emergencies, only 45 percent were supportive of employees who volunteered for additional duty, training, or professional development. More than one-third felt that increased reliance on the Reserve components will cause problems in the workplace in the future.
When problems did occur, respondents reported that 70 percent of the time problems have been resolved between the employee and the employer, without reference to outside employer support mechanisms. However, 44 percent of the larger companies in the survey report having contacted Reserve commanders to resolve a problem. Large companies were much more likely to choose this approach than smaller companies. When asked if they had a
preference for recruiting and hiring RC members, it appears that it made little difference whether or not firms had experienced problems regarding Reserve service.
All other things being equal, 18 percent of companies who employ reservists indicated having a preference for recruiting and hiring members who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
When employers were asked how we might improve communication and help alleviate problems in the workplace, the top three responses were: (1) be provided a copy of the members orders; (2) receive official notification from the military service; and (3) have longer notification times.
An information packet and a toll-free number for employers, along with routine briefings from local commanders, were among the other suggestions. More than 70 percent of employers surveyed would like the flexibility to reschedule military duties around business requirements. Less than 20 percent thought financial reimbursements or assistance in finding replacements for job vacancies would be of great value.
The survey indicates a fairly high degree of awareness concerning laws that protect the civilian jobs of reservists, regardless of whether or not employers had experienced problems related to military service. Even among those employers who had no reservist-employees, more than 40 percent were aware of such laws. Larger companies were more knowledgeable than smaller ones.
Although awareness about laws designed to protect reservists appears to be relatively widespread, the same cannot be said about overall awareness of the DoD employer support programs. Only one in five employers of reservists indicated awareness of such programs, and only 11 percent of those employers with no reservist-employees were aware of DoD efforts to nurture and sustain employer support through programs like Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).
"These results, albeit based on a limited survey, suggest that the department still has much work to do in improving its outreach to the business community," Cragin said. "Our plan now is to further refine the survey instruments and to establish a database of employers of reservists. We will also conduct surveys annually, so that we can track changes over time."
For additional information, contact Lt. Col. Terry Jones at (703) 695-3620 or visit the Reserve Affairs web site at http://dod.mil/ra .