Employing Reservists: a huge benefit or simply a hit on profits?

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From SaBRE © Crown Copyright 2009Recently the Government announced that it would shift the balance between full time and reserve soldiers, airmen and sailors.  This comes about from a belief that the UK needs a part professional, part reserve armed force to meet its worldwide defence commitments cost effectively.  Members of the Volunteer Reserve Forces are of course ordinarily in full time employment in industry.  Today the ratio between full time and reserve is about 85:15 but the Government wants to shift this to 70:30.  Luckily for smaller firms, the chance of their having a part time soldier is less than 1% but this chance will double in the coming years.  Today, their absences for training are mostly only a couple of weeks a year.  If the Government has its way, absences of six months at a time will be commonplace.  So how does an SME principal manage part time soldiers in their workforce?  This blog goes on to discuss the business of employing reservists, looking first at the legal basis, then investigating the benefits and the problems of having reservists in a firm.  It closes by recommending a practical strategy for their management.

Context

The changes proposed by the Government are included in proposals tabled by Dr Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence.  The UK armed forces are to lose 18,000 full-time soldiers by 2020 but will gain almost as many to the ranks of the reserves, bringing the reserve strength to about 36,000.  Today the Territorial Army and its navy and air force counterparts have a total of around 14,000 personnel with another 6,000 awaiting training.  One in a hundred ten-man firms will have at least one reservist on its staff in the coming years.  Not a big problem, you might think.

What is now changing and what will continue to change is the time for which reservists will be absent from work on active service.  Until recently when commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan demanded use of reserve forces, the main absence was for Annual Camp.  The camp was a two week period when the reservist honed skills they had learned over various weekends throughout the year.  The maximum continuous absence was therefore two working weeks.  The Armed Forces are now coming to rely on reservists and reservists are likely to be mobilised for up to two six month periods over three years.  Now that is a big problem!

Employer Obligations

The Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 (SOE 85) provides reservists who have a liability to be mobilised with two types of protection:

  • Protection of employment: the Act provides protection from unfair dismissal and precludes the reservist’s job being terminated because he or she has a liability to be mobilised; and
  • Rights to reinstatement: the Act provides a legal right to reinstate the reservist to their former job.

Firms cannot discriminate during recruitment or employment and they must hold the reservist’s job open for them.  In addition, some benefits can’t simply be stopped.  There are specific conditions associated with these regulations that employers must make themselves familiar with if they employ reservists.  Details can be found on the SaBRE web site. SaBRE  (Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers) is a Ministry of Defence web site dedicated to promoting the value of employing reservists.

Benefits and Dis-benefits of Employing Reservists

From SaBRE © Crown Copyright 2009Reservists do a huge variety of things when on Annual Camp.  TimelessTime consultants have managed serving reservists over the years in the old regime when there were short absences.  Many in government and in the Armed Forces argue that reservists gain valuable leadership skills that can be applied in industry.  After 20 years managing reservists and a stint in the TA himself, John Berry, Director at TimelessTime commented “I’ve yet to see it.  My experience is of reservists covering for absent Desk Officers, doing basic weapons training and going on bar crawls in Cyprus.”

All this is changing however.  Reservists are now more frequently being mobilised for longer periods and if the Government proposals go through, this will be the norm. This means that there’s more opportunity to gain skills and to take on responsibilities such as running units and training local police and army in far flung places.  It does however depend hugely on the individual and their trade.  As John Berry noted “The theory is sound.  Extra-to-role challenges do contribute hugely to leadership learning and a modicum of pressure adds to the value of the experience.  It’s likely that as reservists become more professional, their value to industry will also improve.”

Unfortunately there’s nothing the employer can do to improve the chances of ‘transferable skills’ being acquired.  The only hope is that by fostering staff development in the firm, the employer increases the chance of skills transfer to the military thereby improving the chance of a worthwhile posting.  In turn there may be benefit on return to work.

Of course the biggest dis-benefit is the disruption.  The SME principal must suffer the absence and at best temporarily reorganise or fill the post with a contractor.   Whilst the MOD retains ‘ownership’ of the reservist if they return with medical problems, things such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological problems can dog reservists for years after their re-integration.

Practical Advice

From SaBRE © Crown Copyright 2009

TimelessTime’s practical advice revolves around one simple tenet: ‘be prepared’.  This means that you should find out if you employ any reservists (they are in any case obliged to tell you), then develop a policy on employment of reservists that embraces and complies with the Act and tells the reservists in your firm exactly what will and what will not happen on the event of their being called up.  In addition, the policy should also set out the plan for replacing the reservists’ effort while absent.  This then means that as soon as you are given the 28 days notice of mobilisation, you start a process to protect the firm from damage.  And as soon as you get a letter saying the reservist is returning, you start the process of re-integration to minimise disruption.

And once back, principals must continue engagement, firstly finding out any new competences acquired and then determining how best to capitalise on them.  Be mindful too that reservists will need time to re-adjust and may need additional management time to assure reintegration.

TimelessTime can assist in every aspect of reservist employment and the policies and procedures needed and also the management of problems caused by reservists’ absence and re-integration.  Call us today for more information. Further basic information is also available on the SaBRE web site.

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