Education and Transition

Best for Vets: Spouse employment snapshot

Doug described it like this: "Welcome to Virginia. Your wife's deploying now. You're going to be a single parent, three small kids."

Through the years, such deployments haven't just thrust bouts of single parenthood onto Cox, they've also presented unique challenges to advancing his career as a nurse. In such a certification-dependent profession, relocating often means having to find a new job with a new organization and also obtaining a new set of credentials to prove he's qualified for the work.

The list: Spouse employment snapshot

The methodology: How we chose the top spouse employers.

"It's frustrating because, you know, I love my wife; I love my children. But at the same time ... you want to do more for yourself," he said.

Such challenges are common for military spouses, who must hop from city to city — and consequently from job to job, in many cases — under orders from the federal government.

And finding that job doesn't get easier the third or fourth or fifth time you find yourself seeking it in the course of a decade.

Christine Dickens Photo by Nick Herrera
Christine Dickens Photo by Nick Herrera

Christine Dickens has been at USAA for 10 years. Her late husband, Billy, was a staff sergeant in the Air Force. USAA described some of the most robust accommodations for military spouses.

Photo Credit: Nick Herrera/USAA

But many companies have policies that help their military spouse employees keep their jobs through life-altering reassignments that may move them across the country.

And some view military spouses as uniquely qualified and valuable employees.

"As their spouse would deploy, they're going to organizationally manage ... all the other challenges that they would normally have a partner to do," said Lewis Runnion, director of military affairs for Bank of America.

Thus, military spouses are more likely to have strong leadership, organization and teamwork skills, Runnion said. Even the recurring permanent change-of-station moves, which many companies will view as a liability in hiring a military spouse, can be a positive, Runnion said.

"We see that actually as a benefit, in some cases, because they're getting exposure to different regions of the country. They come to us with culturally diverse backgrounds."

To accommodate military spouses, Bank of America provides preferential job placement when a spouse is forced to change locations. The company also allows more flexibility in hours and remote work for positions that accommodate it, he said.

"It's not just a good thing to do; it's a good business decision for us," Runnion said.

Melissa Sharp of Wilimgton Photo by Kevin Barry
Melissa Sharp of Wilimgton Photo by Kevin Barry

Military spouse Melissa Sharp works for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Wilmington, Del. The company described some of the most robust accommodations and incentives for military spouses.

Photo Credit: Kevin Barry

Similarly, Humana gives its managers broad discretion in allowing employees to work remotely.

That approach is "a godsend" for Doug Cox, a registered nurse who started as a Humana Cares manager in January, doing patient consultations over the phone.

"Humana seeks out spouses like me and gives us opportunities to work, have financial security, have some stability," he said. "I do all of my work at home."

That means he'll be able to keep his same job with his same department wherever Uncle Sam orders his wife, now a lieutenant commander in the Navy. It's also helping him grow closer to his family.

"This is ... the first year that I'm going to be able to see my kids' softball games."

The approach is also a benefit to Humana's interests as a company, said Kevin Stakelum, director of talent acquisition.

"Being flexible helps from a supply perspective ... because it opens up opportunity to hire a larger portion of the population," he said.

It can also help Humana hold on to good employees who are forced to relocate because of the military or other circumstances. That, Stakelum said, saves the company all the costs that come from losing talent: a drain on institutional knowledge, time and effort to find a replacement, extra strain on the existing team while the job is vacant and training a new employee.

And this flexibility doesn't extend just to the employees who have long, established careers at Humana.

Sarah Spalding, Humana Cares Manager Photo by Jody Spalding
Sarah Spalding, Humana Cares Manager Photo by Jody Spalding

Sarah Spalding, a Humana Cares manager, is married to an Army sergeant first class.

Photo Credit: Spalding family

Spalding said she was nervous to give the news to her Humana recruiter, but when she did, she was told not to worry about losing her new job.

"Those were the first things she said to me, and a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders," Spalding said.

As a company whose customer base is made up of current and former service members and their families, USAA realizes unique benefits from hiring military spouses.

"Who is in a better position to understand that group than that group themselves?" USAA's Dickens said.

Military spouses can offer USAA customers understanding, empathy and advice that people with civilian backgrounds cannot, she said. So the company has made efforts to ensure that relocation isn't a barrier for its military spouse employees.

"We have opportunities for military spouses ... to pick their job up and take it wherever their next move is," Dickens said. "I would say we've busted through all of those barriers."

In some cases, recruiting military spouses can be more difficult for companies than retaining them.

"It's not always obvious that they're a spouse, and so I think that is a challenge, in terms of attracting them," Humana's Stakelum said.

Military spouses' busy schedules, which may be set in a time zone halfway across the world, also can make it more difficult to set up in-person or over-the-phone interviews.

After hearing about this problem in a Military Spouse Employment Partnership meeting a few years ago, Stakelum said, Humana developed an interview format in which job candidates could record themselves answering questions on their own time, as a one-way interview.

"We're getting really positive feedback on this across the board," Stakelum said. "It gives flexibility to the candidate, and it goes back to what we were talking about before, where the company's culture is trying to provide tools to provide that flexibility."

Sheryl Webster of Wilimgton Photo by Kevin Barry
Sheryl Webster of Wilimgton Photo by Kevin Barry

Military spouse Sheryl Webster works for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Wilmington, Del. The company described some of the most robust accommodations for military spouses.

Photo Credit: Kevin Barry

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