5 communication tips for talking to your boss, landlord, and others when you’re called to active duty

It can be hard to balance civilian obligations with the demands and unpredictability of your Guard or Reserve duties. This is especially true when you’re called up unexpectedly or on short notice and need to plan for a potentially long absence from your civilian life. These separations can bring emotional challenges such as saying goodbye to family and friends. You also might face logistical challenges such as missing work. Or you might need to break a lease or deal with other legal and financial issues.

Use these tips to help conversations—and your transition—go more smoothly. They’ll help you be ready when the time comes to discuss with your landlord or employer how your time away could affect your commitments to them.

Tip #1: Know your rights and your obligations—and how to navigate them effectively

Certain federal laws protect Military Service Members who need to leave their jobs, break lease agreements (including housing and car leases), or end service contracts (such as a cell phone contract) due to their military duties. Refer to the following federal laws to learn about your basic protections and what criteria you need to meet to qualify for those safeguards:

This legal information might help you feel more secure in approaching a conversation, but you’ll still want to use your communication skills to make things easier. Use a gentle approach: Promote collaboration and planning for your departure, rather than present strong legal arguments that could quickly sour the conversation.

The full ins and outs of your legal protections can be very complex, so be sure to use your legal resources and consult the nearest legal assistance office for help. Still, if you encounter some trouble, it’s important to keep your communication collaborative and non-combative.


Example: If you encounter some pushback from your landlord, try saying, “It seems I’m not explaining clearly about the regulations that allow me to break this lease. I’m happy to share the resources that outline my rights.”


Tip #2: Be open and transparent

It’s crucial to notify your employer, landlord, and others of your orders in a timely manner.

Not only are authenticity and transparency good relationship skills, but they’re also part of the requirements laid out in SCRA and USERRA. When possible, try to have these discussions in person. Face-to-face conversations let you to read each other’s tone and body language, which can help to prevent miscommunications. Discuss what being a Military Service Member means in terms of drills, training schedules, and other departures before an issue arises or you receive orders. Keep in mind that, under USERRA, employers can’t discriminate in hiring you based on your military obligations.


Example: When you approach your employer, try saying, “As you know, I’m a member of the Reserves, and I’ve just received orders for duty. Can we meet to talk about planning for my departure and how we can manage my responsibilities here in my absence?”


Tip #3: Have a 2-way conversation

Come prepared to discuss how to transfer your responsibilities while you’re away. By thinking ahead, you’ll show commitment to your job, even when your service duties are in play. Be open to brainstorming and using the time before you leave to make the transition smoother. Try to validate any concerns or reactions from your employer, landlord, or others. Although there might be a lot on your plate as you prepare to leave, others might also experience financial hardship or stress as a result of your absence. So make sure to acknowledge any concerns, particularly if someone’s initial reactions aren’t what you expected.


Example: Try saying something such as, “I understand my departure will have some impact on your workload. I’m open to spending some time figuring out a plan that will make the transition easier.”


Tip #4: Keep a written record

It’s good practice to follow up any conversations with an email or letter to summarize what you discussed. This will help everyone stay on the same page, and it gives you a record in case you need to refer to it later.


Example: You might write, “In follow-up to our conversation on [date], I wanted to provide a summary of what we discussed regarding my upcoming absence due to military service.” 


You also can use form letters or other templates as a guide.

Tip #5: Be prepared with additional resources

Some civilians might not have as much knowledge about the military (and related regulations) as you do. If they want to learn more about policies, be prepared to share information about USERRA and SCRA. Consider providing some of these resources too:


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References

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Carrère, S., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion. Family Process, 38(3), 293–301. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00293.x

Figinski, T. F. (2016). The effect of potential activations on the employment of Military Reservists: Evidence from a field experiment. ILR Review, 70(4), 1037–1056. doi:10.1177/0019793916679601

Friedman, R. A., & Currall, S. C. (2016). Conflict escalation: Dispute exacerbating elements of e-mail communication. Human Relations, 56(11), 1325–1347. doi:10.1177/00187267035611003

Tidwell, G. L., Rice, D. A., & Kropkowski, G. (2009). Employer and employee obligations and rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Business Horizons, 52(3), 243–250. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2009.01.003