The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


As I look out the window to see green grass where snow should be, I think back to summer days – now but a memory for most. Fall clearly initiated the transformation of our days from summertime bright to wintertime dull – the only colorful additions being a short-lived insertion of yellows, reds and oranges that cover the stately coats of green all around us. Though still green, the once soft grass became brittle under our feet with the onset of winter. Lakes lost their blue luster, taking on the drab grey reflected from a cloudy autumn sky before laminating themselves with a protective coating of ice. For those accepting conventional wisdom, summer fades as quickly as flowers exposed to the season’s first frost. For those seeking their own reality, however, a change in season can initiate new beginnings rather than closing the book on chapters already lived and activities already experienced.

As a summer person, I hold onto the season for as long as possible. Rationalizing that there is less congestion on the lake in September and October than in August, we replace summer’s cloak of mosquitoes with our woolen blankets as we venture out for a nightly vigil upon the waters. (We once had to chop our boatlifts out of the ice…that year I guess we held on a bit too long!) As I remembered summer during our family celebrations, my mind envisioned the seemingly endless parade of boats lined up to leave the lake this past Labor Day. Following conventional wisdom, those lining up to leave “at a reasonable hour” were reaping traditional rewards – an early escape from the cold clutches of the lake that could grip them should they stay for but a week or two longer. They could look forward to an early arrival home, an evening of unpacking and cleaning-up before returning to work (undoubtedly feeling as though they had left a small piece of themselves behind). As with anything, those following the crowd early would share the rewards of their fellow travelers BUT might also suffer the regrets of their early departure. Some, however, are destined to go against the grain – to take the road less travelled – as validated by the occasional individual launching their boat amongst the throng of ships abandoning their stations. Knowing the beauty they were about to share by going against the tide brightened my day. While I may not have welcomed the handful of battered and bruised boats that were being inserted into my lake by these “Johnny-come-lately” folk, they were at least actively swimming against the tide to discover the peaceful treasure left behind by the fair-weather crowd.

Important life-lessons can be learned when we take the time to watch the little things that happen around us. Reflecting upon the summer dreams that flirt through my mind as I experience another Christmas without snow, I thought about the “yellow ski boat” that terrorized our quiet bay every weekend – its owners greeting the dawn and saying goodnight to the dusk throughout the summer. As it patiently waited to escape from the lake, a faded green speedboat fitted with a trolling motor and multiple fishing poles slipped quietly into the water as its replacement. A camouflage flat bottom boat awaits its entry into the water as a fleet seemed ready to slip away. Different strokes for different folks, I guess, but all part of an ongoing continuum. It seems that only when one recognizes much can come from seeking a different reality than that chosen by the crowd will he or she begin to realize that individual loss can become another’s gain…one’s beginning can be another’s end…that as dreams fade and die for one they can come alive for another. While the Holiday season brings much joy and contentment, far too often the loss individuals experience – be it a spouse, a brother or a parent (as is happening with three of my friends) – weighs heavily upon the minds of those living their own reality during this time of reflection, transition, hope and change.

I think about the changes that Nature senses and the differences that seasons bring. Where once our lakefront was crowded with ducks (and geese) seeking scraps of bread from our neighbors, fall transformed it into a swan sanctuary with a dozen of the white spectacles preening themselves, slowly and majestically stretching their wings out as if to say, “look at me…I didn’t leave!” Had we followed conventional wisdom and left with the crowd we would never have seen two blue herons perched silently upon the boatlift seeking an early morning meal. We would have missed the bald eagle that perched upon the frail branches of our dying lakefront maple tree – struggling to survive yet still offering a resting place for a powerful hunter. People fishing now fill the now tranquil waters – wearing heavy coats of wool rather than the layers of sunscreen their predecessors employed. The angry buzz of personal watercraft is replaced by the muted splash of a fish leaping from the water. The joyful laughter of children swimming no longer mask the haunting cries of gulls as they dive down towards their unsuspecting prey. To those who followed the crowd I think a silent “thank you” is in order for they allowed us who intentionally chose to remain to revel in this rich reward – to create memories that linger even into a mild winter that has yet to bring itself to fruition.

As I allowed my mind to wander this past weekend, I realized that far too many diminish their potential by following the crowd. They chose to take the easy route – the path of least resistance – and in so doing lose any chance they may have had to establish their individuality. People often suffer in silence rather than identifying and addressing the issue that most concerns them. They do what everyone else does so as not to attract individual attention. Peer pressure drives decisions, a “flock” mentality replacing what was once individuality. Family relationships can be destroyed when pride or misunderstanding are allowed to play out unabated to their natural and destructive ends. If being one of the crowd or accepted by many diminishes one’s ability to be independent and free – if doing “as is expected” creates a self-limiting dungeon rather than a land of opportunity and choice – then perhaps there is a better way to go.

Saying “no” to conventional wisdom often establishes one’s own hopes, dreams and realities. Had Fulton listened to conventional wisdom would he have invented the steam engine? Had Edison listened to conventional wisdom would he have harnessed electricity? Had the Wright brothers listened to conventional wisdom would they have pioneered flight? What might YOU be able to accomplish – what potential might you be able to realize – if you refuse to listen to conventional wisdom, choosing instead to chart a path based on independent thoughts and aspirations?

I find in reflection that I might be more apt to celebrate with those who remained on the lake this past fall, joining me as I refused to accept the conventional wisdom that summer had ended – and in doing so, accepting that there is wisdom far beyond the conventional! (Now, if only such unconventional wisdom could create snow – if even for a week or two – our winter wonderland would be complete!)

Monday, December 17, 2012


We often start the year with hope and promise, then fall so hopelessly behind that we forget about our planned course of action to end up where we started – thinking about the things not accomplished (and where all the time we had intended to spend on them has gone), placing them back on our “priority lists” for next year. Following-through on the “fresh starts” you seek this year can only happen when an intentional course is charted – when groundwork has been laid and planning has been done – prior to initiating your journey and intentionally carrying-on - taking life one step at a time.

Before setting (or renewing) resolutions for 2013, you should reflect on how specific actions made a difference during the past year. Were you able to accomplish all you wanted at work…at home…with those you love and care for? Are you in a better (or worse) place than when the year began? What happened to you “in spite of yourself” rather than “because of something you did?” Until you are able to identify “what is” and realize “what has been,” you will never be able to travel down the road towards “what could be” as you seek the possible rather than settling for that which is (and always will be) probable.

Successful individuals define objectives, consider as many possible “roadblocks” as can be reasonably anticipated and plan to avoid these obstacles before moving forward with definitive actions. To these individuals, success is not just a possibility – it is a foregone conclusion! When one sees more “downside” in failing than “upside” in succeeding – becomes hesitant to act for fear of what might go wrong – success will remain an enigma. Success eludes those who think “Why?” as it attaches itself to the actions and words of those who truly believe “Why Not?” We must recognize that SHOULD change happen, only when we accept and embrace the altered paths that open up to us will we assimilate the new realities we are presented.

Are you willing (and able) to accept change IF what you want to happen does occur? When we explicitly resolve to do something DIFFERENT, we must implicitly accept that our comfort, circumstances and situations WILL NOT remain the same!  We must leave our shelter before we can climb the summit to expereince the view from each new horizon.

There may have been a time where “keeping up” with the world allowed one to maintain their position in life. We live in a knowledge-driven world – one in which the only constant is change. To avoid another year of failed expectations, approach your “resolution process” systematically. With all the talk about “right to work” this year, make sure you exercise your right to live – to make decisions, be held accountable for their implementation AND receive the praise when your dreams come to fruition. Some basic things you should consider before closing out your old year and exchanging it for new hopes, dreams and opportunities would include the following:

Review your last year’s accomplishments. Identify what you resolved to accomplish last year. Celebrate your successes by “shouting them from the rooftops” to a friend! Determine if the obstacles keeping you from tasting success were “inside or outside” of your control – and if anything was done to eliminate the roadblocks that prevented you from realizing your goals. Do not forget to list successes from the year that were not part of your resolution process. Just because you did not “resolve” to initiate a change does not mean “credit” should not be taken for its accomplishment. The difference between successful people and those that seem to hover at the edge of greatness is often one of perspective. Some assume success is a foregone conclusion while others think of it merely as a remote possibility!

Clearly define and record your goals for the coming year. Share them with a friend or associate to establish accountability. The only good thing about having no (or low) expectations is that you will never be disappointed! Telling someone, however, is not enough. You should maintain contact with your “support network” throughout the year to keep you “on task” and focused. Secret goals are rarely accomplished.

Believe that “Nothing is impossible.”  Too many people confuse “impossible” with impractical or improbable. All things are possible…our only limitations are typically fiscal, physical, timing, confidence issues or a lack of knowledge. We will inevitably face detractors and naysayers whenever we try something new. Do not add to your apprehensions, doubts or inadequacies by questioning yourself before beginning!

Regardless of what your goals might be during 2013, remember that the only bad resolution is one never resolved. The only wrong action is action never taken. The only unforgivable mistake is one that did not teach. Reflect on last year’s successes - replicating the positive actions that “made a difference” while thinking about your failures just long enough to understand what went wrong so you can avoid repeating them.  When you consciously resolve to move forward - taking one step at a time - the sky will be your only limit!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


One of the key principles in any relationship – be it professional or personal – is that much can be accomplished IF you do not care who receives the credit for it. Though it is human nature to want recognition for successfully implementing an idea, an individual becomes a leader when he or she realizes that being responsible for something is often more important than receiving credit for its accomplishment.

A relationship will be strengthened by actively engaging in cooperative reasoning – through openly discussing all possibilities before acting to bring to fruition one individual’s probabilities. Originating alternative ideas or concepts is critical to initiate change BUT the implementation of change can often be more effective if the “doers” are empowered to act so that the “dreamers” can more freely innovate. Maturity within a relationship (or success in a managerial position) comes when the originators of ideas internalize the reality that while “doers” tend receive credit for their performance in bringing ideas to fruition they would never have acted had a new idea or direction not been brought to the surface by a “dreamer.” We far too often try to pull everyone in the direction we want to go or step over those that appear to be in our way rather than lifting those around us up and rising to the top upon their shoulders.

We unleash the potential of those around us to create change when we formulate an idea then communicate the results we wish to accomplish to those that will be implementing the change rather than telling them what to do and how to bring our thoughts to fruition. We create dependency in our relationships when we tell others what to do and when to do it rather than simply defining our goals and monitoring progress towards their accomplishment. A relationship constructed upon a foundation of dependent reliance on the thoughts and ideas of another cannot be meaningful. Growth or success beyond that which one has already achieved cannot occur until a leader (in either a business or a personal relationship) equips those around him or her with tools that allow for independent thoughts and actions.

Great leaders originate ideas, communicate expectations then move on to consider new alternatives while monitoring the progress of those left to accomplish their initiatives. They are rarely around when the tasks they initiate are completed so will not often receive direct recognition for the results – rather they celebrate in the accomplishments of others, recognizing that great rewards will ultimately come to those who can selflessly initiate change.

Those that seek recognition for their ideas and actions often lose sight of their long-term objectives and fail to meet their ultimate goals. To achieve greatness, seek it within the accomplishments of those with whom you have relationships. Leverage the capabilities of those you have equipped to act upon your ideas rather than limiting your potential to only those things you can accomplish on your own. Find yourself as you lead others through their darkness and they will help to light your way as they begin to find themselves.