Which Holiday Does Your Company Observe: MLK Day or Veterans Day?

The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) conducted a recent survey of holiday practices and found that three in ten employers (30 percent) will give all or most workers a paid holiday on Monday, January 17th in observance of Martin Luther King Day.

It got me to wondering how many companies offer their employees a paid or unpaid holiday on Veterans Day, or at least did something of significance to acknowledge the day.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a poll on the 2011 holidays that organizations plan to observe.  SHRM’s numbers reflected higher support for MLK Day than the BNA survey with 38% reporting that their organizations would be closed in observance.  Veterans Day lags behind, with 21 percent indicating they plan to observe the holiday in 2011 (encouragingly, an increase of 5% points over the 2010 reported numbers).

For the last few years I have sent out requests on LinkedIn for HR professionals and veterans to share what their company is doing to recognize and honor the service of its veteran-employees on Veterans Day.

While my method of polling is, admittedly, completely unscientific, the results are still interesting.  As you might expect, very few people reported offering or being offered paid time off.  Those companies that did tended to be small businesses that were owned by veterans, who made it a priority that all their employees have the time off to attend and/or participate in Veterans Day events.  Many veteran-employees reported that they took personal time off (paid and unpaid) to attend events.

Why should your company consider offering Veterans Day as a holiday or at least plan an event acknowledging the day?  Human Resources professionals know that recognizing and valuing the unique contributions of your employees is a critical component in any company’s military recruiting and military retention strategies.   I see many organizations hosting elaborate International Women’s Day events (March 8th),  coordinating training and education events around National Disability Employment Awareness Month,  and planning food-and-arts centered events around Asian-American / Native American / African American History Months, and promoting them in their recruitment marketing materials and diversity web site pages, but the silence can be deafening when it comes to Veterans Day events.

While some employers have expressed concern to me that it would appear that they were showing support for the ongoing wars in the Middle East, most are just at a loss for ideas on what they could do to show appreciation for veterans in general and their veteran-employees specifically.  So I am going to give you some suggestions that you can work on this year, regardless of whether you offer a paid day off for Veterans Day.

For the organized, high energy types out there, here are some programs to aspire to from companies that have turned this into an art:

  • Coca-Cola: Organizes an entire week’s worth of events.  They prepared 10,000 USO care packages, held a Vets VIP Dinner followed by a company-wide Veterans Day main event, participated in the Atlanta Veterans Day Parade and held a Military Ball.
  • Accenture: Hosted a military “Dining Out” event and invited civilian employees to partake in the pomp and circumstance (and general silliness) of the event.
  • Dell:  Invited several local National Guard units to participate in their event, including an air cavalry unit that provided static displays of a Blackhawk helicopter and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.  One of the company’s executive leadership team members and an executive VP (who was a retired two-star general) flew in to address the employees.   Each veteran was presented with a certificate of appreciation, an American flag, and an American flag lapel-pin, and was encouraged to wear their military decorations.

Do those events sound too overwhelming to organize this year?  Many other companies and universities reported doing the following, which are things most any company could do with just a few months planning:

  • Host a Veterans Day luncheon
  • Send out an email or newsletter acknowledging the history of the holiday and profiling the service of a few veteran-employees
  • Mail a personal letter signed by the CEO and/or head of Diversity to each self-identified veteran-employee thanking them for their service and sacrifice
  • Post profiles of veteran-employees on bulletin boards or make a video for YouTube (click to see an example from Sodexo here.)
  • Send a contingent of employees to a local Veterans Day parade with “<Company ABC> supports its veterans” t-shirts or signs
  • Organize employee volunteer events at local VA hospitals or Wounded Warrior Transition Centers
  • Volunteer with a local Veteran Service Organization, the USO or the American Red Cross, all organizations that have strong ties to the military community
  • Arrange with your local schools to have your veteran-employees as speakers

Veterans Day is Friday, November 11th How will your company acknowledge the service of your veteran employees this year?