How the ‘hero veteran’ trope limits job options and damages post-military careers

 Recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Cognition reveals that military veterans, despite being viewed as heroes by the American public, often face challenges in the workplace. This "heroization" effect can lead to higher rates of unemployment or underemployment, as well as lower earnings for veterans. The perception of veterans as selfless actors may limit their career options and push them into lower-paying jobs associated with acts of selflessness. This study, which includes 11 specific research investigations, sheds light on the consequences of labeling a group of people as heroes. 

Moreover, the paper suggests that similar effects may be observed in other professions deemed heroic, such as firefighters, paramedics, teachers, and social workers. Traditionally, these career paths are not highly compensated. Previous studies have also indicated that veterans may face career obstacles due to their military service. However, veterans may possess a competitive advantage in the labor market due to their willingness to shoulder societal burdens and contribute to larger-scale outcomes rather than personal gain.

Magnus Johnson, a former Green Beret and co-founder of Mission 22, a nonprofit supporting veterans, emphasizes that individuals who join the military often seek a greater purpose in life. They want to be part of something larger than themselves and align their values with the collective values of the military unit. However, this worldview doesn't always align with typical modern workplaces, creating a clash of values. Johnson notes that many veterans entering the civilian workforce have just experienced life-and-death situations and seek something more meaningful than monetary compensation. When veterans venture into entrepreneurship or establish foundations, their motivations predominantly revolve around helping others rather than personal gain.

Despite being seen as heroes, veterans often find themselves going above and beyond without receiving commensurate rewards. This issue requires a fundamental reevaluation of how service-minded professionals, including veterans, nurses, and teachers, are perceived. Johnson argues that business leaders have a responsibility to understand the values and motivations of their employees. Recognizing the potential for leadership in those who are willing to selflessly contribute to collective goals is crucial in addressing this imbalance. 

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