Written by Mission Next Consulting
An affinity group is simply a group of people who share a common interest or goal, or they want to come together for a specific purpose. Sometimes they are called an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or an Employee Network Group (ENG).
Affinity groups are voluntary and employee-driven so you can expect that any gatherings or events will be planned by someone in the group. The group usually provides support and networking opportunities, including things like career development and community outreach. Most importantly, they provide a way for employees with something in common to gather, make friends, and share ideas.
When businesses instill a sense of mission and purpose within their veteran workforce, those veterans are more likely to stay.1 Almost 85% of veterans believe that their personal contributions impact the overall success of their organization.2
Affinity groups are commonly used by human resource professionals who want to retain top talent. Most organizations that reported offering veteran-specific programs for veterans, said that they used affinity groups to support veterans as they acclimate to their civilian jobs.3 Rand found that 75% of the organizations interviewed for one study reported having a veteran affinity group and staffed them using employee volunteers who were veterans.4 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reinforced that message in 2016 when they studied how companies are using affinity groups to promote leadership programs and other training that could aid veterans as they acclimated into the company.
If your organization has other affinity groups, you can look to those leaders to help you get things off the ground. However, if your organization is new to the concept, you might have more work ahead of you to lay the foundation. Mission Next dedicated an entire chapter of the book to help you set up a Veterans Affinity Group. It even gives you a sample charter and a suggested mission statement. Here are the basic steps that need to occur to establish a Veterans Affinity Group.
Starting a Veterans Affinity Group will take time. You know you’ll need to set aside time to organize, promote, and even hold the meetings. Be sure to share the responsibilities so you don’t get burned out before it even gets off the ground. Also, you might have broader ideas where you really want to affect change in the organization. When it comes to these concepts, things rarely happen quickly. Recognize that goals that are bold and ambitious are wonderful, but you need to be patient to achieve them.
The Veterans Administration understands how veterans’ affinity group can make a difference in the civilian workplace. They developed a handout in their Veterans Employment Toolkit that provides definitions for veterans’ affinity groups, along with suggestions on how the group can impact an organization.
Research shows that while larger civilian organizations (over 10,000 employees) tend to have veterans affinity groups, medium and small-sized organizations are not as likely to have one. The doctoral dissertation that led to Mission Next interviewed only one medium-sized civilian organization that had a formal veterans affinity group. In that participating organization, the HR leader discussed how these affinity groups provide a sense of comradery and belonging that helps ease the transition from active duty.
Keep in mind that veteran affinity groups can either be groups that are formally recognized and financially supported by the civilian organization, or an informal gathering within an organization that provides veterans an avenue to talk, share stories, and socially interact with other veterans who have commonly-shared experiences. The more formal groups may have a board of directors and a charter that defines the strategic goals of the affinity group. One Human Resources leader in the study described how their formal veterans affinity group received corporate funding and had "branch locations" at different plants. Some groups gather donations for the Toys-for-Tots program, while other chapters may pick a veterans group as a partner to receive donations and volunteer support. Though not fully organized yet, one other organization expressed a desire to form a veterans affinity group to support their veteran workforce. That HR Leader commented that "the other initiative that I’m thinking about for veterans is some type of employee resource group. It would allow them more opportunity to connect and learn from each other. It would help us learn from them about what we can do in the workplace to make it more veteran friendly."
The veterans who participated in the dissertation study said these groups helped them acclimate to the new culture by bonding with other veterans. They shared common themes from their prior active-duty lives such as the need for connecting with a strong team. All the study participants said they enjoyed working with their military "teams." The teams were a cohesive group of people who were all working together to achieve a common goal. One officer remarked that as a Company Commander (a leader of a 120-person team), "You’re basically God to 120 individuals. When you have that experience you want to do that over and over again."
Affinity groups encourage veterans to share their experiences, and they "take care" of their own. One study participant commented, "Thankfully, the company I work for has a strong Veterans’ Association. One of the head recruiters was ex-military. He pushed hard for a lot of military guys. . .the Veterans Association invited me out to lunch." Half of the former service members in the study found employment in civilian organizations that had formal or informal veterans’ affinity groups, and in each of those cases the veterans spoke with great fondness of those groups and the solidarity they provide.
1 Schafer, A., Swick, A., Kidder, K., and Carter, P (2016, November). Onward and upward: Understanding veteran retention and performance in the workforce. Center for a New American Security. https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/onward-and-upward
2 Schafer et al,. 2016
3 Schafer et al., 2016
4 Guo, C., Pollak, J., and Bauman, M (2016). Ten frequently asked questions about veterans’ transitions. Rand Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1095.html.
Published: May 10, 2022
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I was excited to participate in the research that led to the Mission Next book because it reminded me how this needed to be a priority for our organization.
Chief Human Resources Officer
Community healthcare organization
I learned that you can't walk around with your rank in your back pocket, so I had to quickly adapt in the new civilian environment. Any preparation work you can do before you make the transition is worth your time.
Retired U.S. Army officer
University veterans’ liaison
From the very beginning, I spent time working on my interpersonal communication skills. I de-militarized my speech and stopped using all the jargon. Since then, I’ve helped many veterans make that transition...
Retired U.S. Army officer
Human Resources Director, manufacturing company
I got an early copy of the Mission Next book to preview. I wish I would’ve had the book prior to my transition because I had to figure out so many of the points from the book on my own.
Former U.S. Navy officer
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