Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Veterans Leadership Council (VLC) is dedicated to sustaining and building upon the company’s long history of supporting employees who serve in the armed forces. The company first demonstrated its strong commitment to employees who serve in 1898, when J&J founder and president Robert Wood Johnson pledged he would hold the positions and continue to pay the salaries of J&J employees during their service in the Spanish-American War. The VLC used that early principle as the benchmark to drive the need for expanded military leave benefits to meet the needs of employees who serve in the military today.
Working in partnership with the company’s HR and global benefits community, the VLC gathered benchmarking data and collected input from its members and other veterans in the J&J workforce to identify coverage gaps and opportunities for improving upon existing benefits. Armed with the information, the VLC employee resource group (ERG) developed specific recommendations for expanding the benefits. The group also played a central role in moving the proposed changes through the approval process and communicating the new policies once they were adopted.
Under the expanded leave benefits, service members receive their full J&J salary while deployed, (in addition to their military salary), and are eligible for paid time off following deployment to acclimate back to civilian life. Vacation time accrues when the deployed employee is on leave for an extended period. Their demonstrated leadership in developing and implementing the new policies earned the ERG recognition from the CEO at the company’s annual board meeting and a prestigious award from the Department of Defense (DoD). Most importantly, the new benefits fulfill the ERG’s underlying mission to support the needs of J&J employees who serve in the armed forces.
In addition to the extended benefits, the VLC worked with senior leaders to establish the Enduring Service Award, presented to employees when they return from a deployment in recognition of their service. The VLC also plays an ongoing role in the military leave process. When an employee is about to go on military leave, the employee receives a letter from the ERG as part of the now standard HR process, informing the employee about the dedicated ERG support offered to them and their family. The ERG provides resources and important information on supports and benefits and assigns a VLC team member to help the employee navigate through the process.
In a separate policy initiative, the VLC led an effort to establish new protections and supports for employees who volunteer in their communities as first responders. The ERG recognized that employees who volunteer in their communities, many of whom are veterans, could be at a disadvantage if their responsibilities as a first responder interfered with their work schedule. The group also learned that first responders often used personal time off to meet their obligations, or had challenges managing or covering shifts that overlapped with the work week. With no specific policies in in place, the ERG gathered information on best practices, talked to employees who served in the role, and took the lead in proposing a new policy – one that goes well beyond the patchwork of state legal protections that are typically available.
With strong ties to J&J leadership – a number of whom are veterans themselves – the VLC serves an important advisory role in the company. The VLC also holds a unique position in the larger J&J hierarchy. While most large companies have a full-time business unit dedicated to managing veterans initiatives, the VLC fills the role at J&J, providing leadership and support in the company’s initiatives to engage patients and customers in veteran and military communities. The VLC is able to accomplish this by having a ten-person enterprise leadership team, separate from the regular chapter-structure, that focuses on employee initiatives and activities. Each member of the enterprise leadership team focuses on a specific external partnership or initiative, for example with one person on recruiting, one on improving engagement with the military and veteran marketplace, etc.
The VLC also helps set the direction for talent development and recruitment initiatives targeted to veterans. As one example, in 2017, the ERG played a lead role in the creation and launch of J&J’s Military Veterans Leadership Development Program, an 18-month cross-functional, cross-business accelerated development program focused on engaging recently transitioned service members. A member of the VLC leadership team manages the program, and other VLC team leaders serve as sponsors to program participants.
With 29 chapters and nearly 1,500 members, the VLC ERG is a strong and influential contributor to the business of J&J, and a powerful voice for veterans – in the workplace and the community.