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!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Books often celebrate being “the best” at whatever one does much more adequately than does life itself. Whether exhibited through sports or in celebration of creative expression, unique talents or gifts of individual achievement, people are fulfilled by the recognition they receive from others and (perhaps more importantly) from the satisfaction they derive from their own successes and accomplishments. Great books, however, rarely provide pure entertainment or escapism – they teach lessons through their insights and illustrations by providing examples of successful decisions (and the results of those choices) and the ramifications of poor decisions or inappropriate actions. We should pay attention to the lessons stories teach us as we chart a path – determine the directions we wish to take – as we travel through our everyday lives.

Some people seem able to accomplish any task, anticipate any challenge, and resolve any conflict without much effort. The Natural, a story about a baseball player born with raw talent to be the best before falling victim to his own success, leading to his discovery of truth and meaning in a life far different from that once imagined, epitomizes this type of individual. Very few “naturals” survive well in highly controlled environments, often labeled as “troublemakers” or “disruptive” within a structured workplace. Within relationships, “naturals” must develop opportunities to channel their gifts – be given chances to shine in the darkness – or they will (intentionally or inadvertently) reveal the inadequacies of those around them rather than building upon their intrinsic strengths. People must given the freedom to fail as they seek opportunities to succeed if they are to realize their innate abilities.

Identifying “naturals” can be a difficult task without providing an innovative environment that fosters (and rewards) an individual’s contributions through personalized (and meaningful) rewards. Without the freedom to expand their horizon, “naturals” often become bored (due to their ability to accomplish things easily), leaving them time to disrupt or disturb others. When you find a “natural,” celebrate your discovery by providing new and ongoing challenges that will allow his or her efforts to contribute to accomplishing things that will add to the “greater good.” If you ARE a natural, recognize that others may not think like you, experience life as you do, nor approach issues in the same manner – and that it is OK they are different. Remember that the broad parameters and boundaries you prefer might make tasks that are simple for you seem much more difficult for others who may have to remain focused on the “ends” if they are to establish the “means” to achieve results.

The Fountainhead details the struggles of an innovative young architect named Howard Roark striving for success on his own terms. Howard must leave the architectural program at college when faculty and administration member are unable to “mold” him into a “traditionalist” designing with columns, facades and acceptable concepts. Roark preferred to follow his own dreams – to design what he felt was unique and practical rather than what was seen as being functionally efficient others. Peter Keating, a classmate lacking Roark’s brilliance and love of architecture, gave his professors exactly what they wanted and graduated with high honors. In a masked celebration of creativity and individuality, Howard submits a radical new building design to a developer through the traditional Keating, seeking animosity in exchange for a promise to construct the building as submitted on the prints. During the construction phase, Peter allowed many modifications resulting in a building reflective of the gaudy architectural trends rather than the creative work originally proposed. Howard, in a fit of rage, destroys the project rather than allowing it to stand – refusing to compromise his efforts or to subvert his ideals.

While a “black and white” person like Howard may be difficult to work with at times (because of an unwavering quest to accomplish the goal without compromise or negotiation), one will ALWAYS know where they stand and what they might come to expect from him or her. In dealing with such a personality, be sure to understand the underlying “why” beneath their actions rather than simply taking actions at face value. We often find ourselves accomplishing great things that were not previously been deemed possible when we embrace creativity and exhibit individuality. We must allow the unique – the unproven – to have a place in our lives if we are to achieve greatness.

Another book written by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, is one of my favorite books about individual accomplishment prevailing at the expense of societal “good” gone too far. For those unable or unwilling to read a book, pick up the movies (both The Fountainhead and two parts of Atlas Shrugged are available). Either book would make a “great read” as you seek to become all that you can be! Join The Natural as he finds success, share Roark’s quest for perfection or allow John Galt to guide you through Rand’s eerie prognostication of our times. You will be transformed as the words jump from the pages to become indelibly imprinted upon your mind.

There are far too few Naturals or Howard Roarks in today’s world. I often look around to find a world of bottom line thinkers – of endless analysis intended to establish foolproof systems. I see a structured world that rewards accomplishment but penalizes creativity – that encourages “team-think” while negating individuality. In order to maximize potential we should consciously strive to celebrate creativity – to reward those marching to the tune of a different drummer. We should seek to dwell within “the possible” rather than living within “the probable,” constantly embracing innovation rather than accepting the status quo. While structure and systems may be necessary for business to survive, perhaps our economy would have a better chance at thriving if we dared to dream, seizing the opportunity to fail – to grasp success from the jaws of defeat.

Take the time to read a good book about creativity, individuality or accomplishment in the face of great odds or unparalleled objections. Given the choice between breaking a rule and breaking the spirit, I would choose to obliterate the rule rather than (even marginally) inhibit the spirit. What about you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I read a newspaper article the other day that portrayed an obvious truth yet it left out much analysis as to WHY the story might be real. The story was about healthcare, stating that Michigan employers had quit providing insurance to more individuals than any other state in the country during the past ten years. We led the country for many of those years when it came to unemployment so would it not make sense that many employees lost their employer-provided healthcare benefits? Implied was that more employers in our state are discontinuing employer-paid health plans in response to the Affordable Care Act than in any other – but a little wisdom would validate this reality as being the result of our state leading the country in unemployment for many of these years (resulting in a loss of employer-sponsored health insurance). Further, news that our state has bounced back and is replacing lost benefits with new plans was strangely absent.

Why is today’s news created for us rather than reported to us – sensationalized and editorialized rather than honestly revealed? News is but one example of a trait running rampant within our daily lives. What would happen if we all took time to look past the obvious when we see or hear information – to see what might truly be behind the curtain as we seek what might hide just past the frame our mind creates around the real story that is often hidden beyond the initial picture we visualize?

A lighthouse can be a powerful sight against a stark blue sky. Beauty upon the rocks set against a calm sea in the background – perched upon a solid foundation built to survive the test of time. We could stop at that image if we wished – or fast forward to the purpose served by a lighthouse during a storm. We could enjoy the beauty OR appreciate it for the lifesaving benefit it provides when serving as a beacon leading ships to safety.

A pier can be a support or a gateway. Many would walk upon the surface of a pier and find the stability it provides as a platform above the sea. Shops fill its surface or meals be caught from its edges. A dock is a foundation from which the world can seen – to which ships can be moored allowing visitors to come and go. Much truth can be found if a pier is examined from beneath its surface. Strong supports frame the world beyond a pier – supports that hold it firm against the power of the tides. Taking time to look beneath the surface of a pier can provide a new perspective to life – finding strength beneath the obvious that makes us what we appear to be.

A view from a seaside resort can reveal beautiful trees and the depths of a powerful ocean. It can show us rocky cliffs or sandy beaches – lush gardens or seemingly endless horizons. We can soak in the obvious beauty around us or frame it within our minds to capture it for all times. We can (as I once heard a fellow tourist say) “see as much as we can in an hour then move on” or we can take our time to soak in the beauty of our surroundings and find all that nature might reveal. We can hurry through life as we take pictures in our minds that might remind us where we were or we can take the time to create a masterpiece – painting each moment in time as if it were the beginning of an eternity (which, indeed, it is and should be!).
Life and relationships are much like the snapshots and thought fragments presented here. We can take what comes to us as it appears to be or we can find meaning behind the moments. We can accept what seems apparent or look beneath the surface to find what is being hidden by the obvious picture we see – what might be causing the action or creating the issue rather than focusing on only upon the results. Far too many relationships seem to be cursory affairs viewed like the news rather than a part of an ongoing continuum – brief instances that become history rather than a foundation upon which a future will be built. Let the circumstances of each situation serve as a platform from which to launch new experiences rather than a cliff from which to dive – a beginning rather than an end. Live each day as if it were the last you might be given rather than trying to end each moment in total and ultimate control. Seek not that which you know – strive to understand that which is a mystery. Refuse to accept the narrow frame that many build around their finite and defined reality. Reach for the picture beyond the frame – for the potential beyond the probable as you seek to fulfill the potential within each relationship you share.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


What makes us decide to do things differently – particularly if the things we are doing provide us comfort or a measure of success? What makes us wander from what is familiar to us in search of unknown opportunities? If we wish to move beyond our current station in life – expecting something different to result from our actions and choices – we must start by deliberately considering of an intentional act that, when taken, will forever change us. When we consider the ramifications of changed behavior and act to implement change we redefine where we are going (one should not expect similar results when doing things differently) by intentionally altering where we have been and what we have done while moving relentlessly towards where we want to be.

Far too often success breeds arrogance, which leads to complacency. If we ride a single success beyond its effective lifespan – thinking “our way” is the only way – someone else will either assume our market share (by improving upon what we do), force us to change (by revealing the shortcomings of our established approach), or disrupt our stagnant but comfortable existence (by offering a more exciting option). We must actively appraise the things we do – both within our work and our personal relationships – retaining those things that contribute to our growth and replacing those that hold us back. By continuously analyzing both our strengths and weaknesses, identifying the things that hold us back and leveraging those that pull us forward, we can remain an effective contributor to the life around us.
Recognizing that change is the only constant in life is necessary if we are to enjoy the rewards that come from accepting the risks of change. We must learn to embrace the possibility of failure – recognizing that with failure comes learning which leads to growth. Success is not born through frantic movement without direction or purpose. It comes ONLY when we stop what we are doing – when we consider the many paths upon which we could travel – so we can begin doing something new by taking a new road in a different direction.
Whenever we initiate change, we must recognize and acknowledge three major factors - intentionally identifying and addressing their hold upon us:
  • We must acknowledge where we have been, recognize what we have accomplished, and wish to be or do something different before we can start to travel upon a new path. How can we better serve our customers? What can we do to improve a relationship? Must we alter our behavior so that we can remain relevant within a changing world? Is there anything that we can do to strengthen another – or that we would be willing to allow another do to help strengthen us? We recognize the need for change when our goals or objectives have changed. We must consciously step from our original path onto one that will refocus and redirect our efforts if we wish to harvest the fruits of change. Before embarking on such a path, however, internalize that our desire to begin something new is stronger than our contentment with what we have – that moving forward provides more desirable rewards than remaining where we are.
  • We must stop doing the things we are doing – that we have always done - no matter how effective they may have been in the past or how comfortable we might be in doing them. When we accept and acknowledge that change is necessary we must abandon the paths (and methods) with which we are comfortable, intentionally and deliberately walking away from the safety provided. A change in paradigm must often occur – walking away from “what is usually done and accepted by others” towards “what has not yet been tried.” A disciplinary procedure must not always include time off without pay (what is the value of suspension when an employee chooses not to work in the first place?). A relationship must provide all involved with a measure of satisfaction – building the esteem of all parties – or it is nothing more than a hollow structure built on shifting sand. How can a meaningful relationship be maintained if both parties want everything “their way” with neither willing to “walk a mile” in the other’s shoes?
  • As we identify and abandon the habits and actions holding us back we must move forward in a way that produce positive growth and change – that rewards us for our efforts so that we will continue to reach for new horizons. We all have personal strengths – the characteristics responsible for any success we have achieved. Everyone can celebrate “peaks of accomplishment” in their past. Far too many, however, choose to rest within the quiet valleys beyond their achievements, gazing up and establishing value based on those things that were done in the past rather than on those things that have not yet been identified. In order to realize meaningful change we must identify the thoughts, practices and actions that brought us to our heights (to replicate them) while discarding those that brought us to our knees (to avoid their recurrence).
People must change more than their outward appearance if they expect their path to shift significantly. We often hear about “new and improved” products only to find nothing but the packaging has changed. Television networks frequently change the night that a failing program airs in order to gain viewers from a less competitive offering. If we are resolved to change we must consciously decide NOT to “stay the course” by innovatively clearing a new path into an unknown wilderness. We must acknowledge our past (both the wins and the losses) before we can define our present (from which we must move forward) if we harbor any expectation of creating a different future (that holds limitless opportunity). In order to initiate change it is important that we continually take stock of what we are doing and where we are going – then actively seek paths that will lead us from complacency to new destinations, new relationships and new opportunities. When we come to a fork in the road we must move forward rather than waiting for our path to be determined by someone else.  Once we identify our new direction we must resolve to move forward – for nothing will change until we consciously and intentionally move from where we are towards where we wish to be.