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The Civilian Workplace

Ways of thinking and behaviour in the military can be quite different from those of the civilian workforce.  For example, the civilian workplace can be much less structured than the military workplace.  Other differences can include dress standards, language, the formality of verbal and non-verbal communication, openness to opinions and leadership styles – so it is important to be prepared for a period of adjustment.


Workplace Culture:

Cultures usually vary across workplaces so it can take some adjustment for any new staff, not just those transitioning from the ADF.  Remember, you may not always get it right the first time, but remain open to feedback and the situation will improve. 

All workplaces use acronyms and jargon, just like in the ADF, so take the time to get used to the language used in your workplace.  If you are unsure of what something means, make sure you ask.  Also remember that you are likely moving in to a workforce with a range of sensitivities, so language that may have been acceptable in the ADF may not be acceptable in your new workplace.  Remain professional and respectful and you will be fine.

In the private sector, using formal titles such as “sir” or “ma’am” is uncommon and can sometimes make individuals feel uncomfortable.  While it is important to be polite, it is more acceptable for civilians to refer to co-workers, regardless of their position, by their first name.

People with a military background have a strong commitment to safety, teamwork, direct and clear communication and task completion.  While employers value this, they are sometimes willing to ignore reduced levels of productivity to maintain harmony in the workplace and retain their workforce.  Take time to observe and consider the different work styles of colleagues and management.


Leadership and Management:

It is more common in the civilian workforce for employees to expect to be listened to and heard and they will not respond well to being given orders or harsh reprimands.  Employees are encouraged to think for themselves or act on their own initiative.  In the civilian workforce, a successful leader can be more an influencer than a commander.   


Managing your career:

In the ADF you did not have to actively plan your career – you may have been recommended for promotion, different roles and responsibilities.  Although it can be daunting, you will be in charge of your own career in the civilian workforce.  Actively seeking feedback, improving your skills and proactively promoting yourself will help you to achieve your career goals.  In larger organisations you will have opportunities to move between teams into different parts of the business or into senior roles.  It is completely up to you to decide how to take advantage of these opportunities.

Interpersonal relationships in the workplace are key to getting ahead.  Be positive and look for opportunities to share your skills with your co-workers.  Additionally, seeking out other veterans in your workplace and the wider community can provide you with the opportunity to find mentors and can even open up future job opportunities.


Helpful Links:

Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program –



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