Work flexibility is important for all kinds of people, but for military families, it may be an absolute necessity.

When one spouse in a military family is deployed for weeks or months at a time, the other spouse may need more flexibility in his or her job to manage both employment and child care or other family needs. 

And since many military families move frequently, flexible or remote work options help spouses maintain stability in their employment regardless of where they’re living.

These challenges of military families, as well as many others, are outlined in a recent report from Blue Star Families.

The organization’s annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey was conducted during April and May 2017 and includes responses from more than 7,800 military members and spouses. It found that time away from family, military spouse employment, and pay and benefits were the top concerns among military family members.

While many of those issues go beyond the scope of what can be fixed by work flexibility, it’s clear from the survey that flex would help ease some of the pressures faced by these families as they serve.

For example, an executive summary of the Blue Star Families report indicates that childcare is a top need for military families, with 67 percent of respondents saying they are not always able to obtain the childcare they need. Many people in the non-military workforce have found that increased flexibility can help overcome these kinds of problems. 

The full report goes much deeper on such issues. It includes a call for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and military leadership to “enhance a command culture that is supportive of a healthier work-life balance. Command leadership can look to model their own healthy work-life balance whenever current missions make this feasible, and ensure service members have a clear understanding of what work-life balance is, why it is important, and how it can impact them and their family.”

Beyond work-life balance concerns, many spouses of military members struggle with finding and keeping full-time employment, even though military families often need two incomes to get by, the Blue Star Families report says.

“Military family respondents identified spouse employment as the greatest financial impact associated with military service, and consistent with previous years, 77 percent of military spouse respondents reported that being a military spouse had negatively impacted their careers,” the report says. “Survey results indicate employment for military spouses is an increasing expectation and financial requirement for today’s military families. 

“When asked to identify the top obstacles to financial security, spouse unemployment/underemployment was the number one challenge cited by both service member (41 percent) and military spouse (47 percent) respondents.”

The report went on to say that “updating the DoD’s outdated and bureaucratically cumbersome personnel management system into a more flexible and decentralized model would allow the military to more effectively meet operational needs and would also enable military families to optimize duty station assignment selection so that both service members and spouses are better able to progress in their careers.”

If the Department of Defense wants to attract and retain talented people for its ranks, the report says, it must focus energy and attention on some of the same things that civilian employers are doing, like expanding opportunities for affordable childcare, improving work-life balance, and increasing flexible work hiring initiatives.

But not all of the responsibility for helping military families rests with the DoD. For example, the report says, “state governments are uniquely positioned to provide relief from military spouse professional licensure and certification challenges.” And business owners “can seek out military spouses, veterans, and transitioning service members as a desirable and talented labor demographic and recognize the value of their experiences when they are applying for employment.”

In order to help with the latter, PsychArmor (a nonprofit offering education and support for all Americans to engage with the military community) offers a free online course to guide businesses on how and why to flex.   

Emma Plumb, director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, leads PsychArmor’s course, “Supporting Veterans, Family Members and Wounded Warrior Caregivers with Flexible Work Options.” It is designed to help people learn about different types of work flexibility, the benefits of flex for both employers and veterans, and how managers can implement a flexible work program.

As the Blue Star Families survey and other resources make clear, if businesses, local and national governments, and the Department of Defense work together, they can improve the lives of the nation’s military family members. As these people dedicate their lives to serving their country, offering flexibility and other assistance seems to be the least we could do in return.

What steps could you or your company take to support military families? If you are serving in the military, or you are the spouse of someone who is serving, what flexible work options would be most helpful to you? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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