Some Flexibility Questions for Members of the National Guard and their Families

Marcy Karin, is the Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Work-Life Policy Unit, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Please note that the views of our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network.

The question for new recruits to the National Guard is no longer if you will deploy, but when.  That one question leads to so many others.  When will you and your family have to put your life together on hold?  When will you have to tell your employers about the change in your circumstances that will also have a big impact on their business? When will you figure out a new budget given a changed, often decreased, income?  When will you update your will?  When will you break your lease?  When will you deal with your car or put your cell phone contract on hold?  When will you make alternative child and elder care arrangements?  The question is when, not if, you will be asked to make these and other difficult decisions.

The questions do not end when members of the National Guard are called up to active duty service and deployed.  At this stage, the questions simply change.  Can your loved ones take time off when you are home for R&R?  Can they make ends meet if your civilian employer doesn’t offer differential pay and your family’s budget decreases during service?  In the unfortunate event something happens, do your loved ones have the flexibility they need at work if a unit goes dark and they are awaiting word that their partner, mother, father, son, daughter, friend, neighbor is ok?

Nor do the questions stop when you return.  Do you have the flexibility at work you need to alter your schedule to make medical appointments?  Or to drive to the closest base, even if it is hours away, to participate in ongoing group sessions or reintegration programs?  Do you have time to re-bond with your kids?  Your partner?  Your friends?  To learn how to drive in the lanes again since you just spent 12 months doing defensive driving on unpaved roads in Iraq trying to avoid roadside bombs?  Do you have time to find a new place to live if you gave up your house before deploying?  Do you have the flexibility you need to retrain yourself how to interact with clients or customers?  If there has been a suicide in your unit, does your employer understand you need to be available for that person’s family as if it was your own?

These are the questions that come to mind as I reflect on the insightful comments of Brigadier General (ret.) Gregg Maxon and other speakers in a conversation I participated in on April 20th.  Questions like these were surfaced as ones Arizona’s military families and their employers are asked to grapple with every day.  Recognizing the over 40,000 members of the Active Duty Service, Reserve and National Guard as well as the approximately 600,000 veterans of all branches and eras in the state, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Work-Life Policy Unit of the  Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, the YWCA of Maricopa County, and WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress co-hosted an event in the National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility to explore the challenges and opportunities for Arizona’s military families.  The goal was to bring business representatives, advocates, military leaders, veterans, students and other stakeholders together to highlight trends, best practices and resources to help businesses understand military families' unique needs related to work.  We believe the perspectives that were highlighted, the lessons learned and the potential flexibility solutions identified are applicable to other businesses across the country.  Our next task is to bring this conversation to others in the state and nation.

No one needs to be alone in dealing with the impact of these ongoing wars.   Members of the military and their families have brothers, sisters, programs, and advocates to turn to for advice and assistance – like staff of the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve and the Arizona Coalition for Military Families.  Veterans like Adam Reich (who returned from Iraq wounded and found hope reintegrating into civilian life through an open dialogue with his supervisor) share their stories to help others.  In addition, employers have best practices to consider adapting.  Companies exist that have been identified as having successful, profitable, and supportive flexibility programs – like USAA, Raytheon, the City of Mesa, and others featured during the Dialogue session – from which you can learn about how to overcome some of the challenges and appreciate the benefits of having a workforce that includes current and former members of the military and their families.  You can learn more about this conversation, hear directly from these employers and experts by watching the video, and see other materials from the event at:  http://www.law.asu.edu/justiceclinic/CivilJusticeClinic/NewsandEvents.aspx.

The changing needs of members of the National Guard as well as those of other service members, veterans, military families, and their employers are a critical component of the current conversation on workplace flexibility.  I hope you join us in talking about the important issues surfaced above and the role of thoughtful public policy in addressing them.