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, July 28, 2015


An axiom is a self-evident or universally recognized truth – a principle that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument.  As we go through our lives we constantly seek guideposts to “show us the way” so that we do not become lost within a detour while the rest of the world passes us by.  We seek to grasp onto the tail of a rising star in the hope that we, too, might be carried towards success.  We search for answers (often more than we seek to formulate questions) to explain away the “bumps” we experience while trying to find the smoothest path available as we move towards our destination(s).  Perhaps if we were to focus more upon the path we take – enjoy the journey as we move toward our ultimate goals – we would feel more peace and joy (rather than hectic tension) when we arrive.  Thinking about some of life’s “universally recognized truths” as we find our way through this world might help to focus our efforts on those things that are important – things or situations that can be controlled or influenced through our own devices and that truly have or result in significance.  Axioms often help us to understand what is important and critical to life (rather than what is wanted or desired) so that we can shrug off those things that do not matter while holding tightly to those that do.  Some of the axioms that have helped me navigate my journey (so far) would include:

INDIVIDUALS UNABLE TO SPEAK POSITIVELY ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALWAYS RESORT TO SPEAKING NEGATIVELY ABOUT WHAT ANOTHER DOES.   Far too many individuals find it easier to bring someone down to their level than to bring themselves to a higher plain. We cast stones without thinking that our own glass house could be easily shattered.  We console ourselves by justifying that “everyone else does it” so it should be OK (even when we know what we are considering is wrong). Though elevating yourself is often far more difficult than pulling others down, we gain far more by lifting ourselves up – bringing others with us – than we could ever achieve by immersing ourselves within a pool of mediocrity.  Recognizing and understanding that “complainers” often have very little confidence in their own abilities or pride in their own accomplishments may not quiet their noise but it should help to minimize the impact it has on your life.

IF YOU CANNOT BE KIND, AT LEAST HAVE THE DECENCY TO BE VAGUE.  It seems that our society revels in the details of the fall – refusing to accept “what is” as being reality while seeking all the thoughts, rumors or information available (or fabricated) that might help to explain the “why” more than the “what.”  Many do not seek answers to unfortunate situations so they can avoid them – rather they seek all the sordid details to establish their own superiority.  They do not seek details so help might be provided – rather they seek to embellish the facts and broadcast their version to bring attention or importance to themselves while talking to others.  People often inquire because they are nosy - gathering details for personal gratification rather than empathetic consolation.  Perhaps we SHOULD try to help more while consciously trying to hurt less – seek to provide a cushion upon which others might land rather than an open abyss into which they will fall.  Unless we can constructively criticize then provide the tools and support necessary to help an individual initiate change, what do we accomplish when we tear down without lifting up – or even remain silent when we could have shed light upon an issue?

EVERYONE BRINGS JOY TO LIFE – SOME WHEN THEY ENTER, OTHERS WHEN THEY LEAVE.  OK, so this one is tongue in cheek – but so appropriate!  How often has someone interrupted you during the middle of a thought – as you were just about to solidify an epiphany that would surely change the world forever?  Sure, we need others to live life to its fullest, but we all have times when it seems that others might “do more good” talking to someone else than they do disrupting our thoughts!  Enjoy the variety that people give the world around you – if everyone thought and acted as you do it would be a terribly boring (or an extremely predictable) world!  Do not isolate yourself from those around you as their perspective (no matter how disruptive it might be) just might be the key that unlocks the door to our understanding.

Several within the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s epic tale about how the “engine of the world” was silenced (whose fiction is hauntingly similar to the reality we see within today’s headlines) would include:

·         A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve – not by the desire to beat others.
·         The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident fact that everybody has decided not to see.
·         Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.

Do you have any baseline “truths” upon which your lift has been built?  Perhaps you could find hope by not asking (or seeking) “who is going to let me” but rather living (and believing) “who is going to stop me?”  Do not become your own worst enemy by believing a dream to be impossible – abandoning it before the journey towards its realization can even begin.  Do not apply “blame” without accepting responsibility.  Do not look for reasons that would keep you from accomplishing something, rather seek ways that would allow it.  Do not refuse to establish goals for fear of failing – rather establish lofty expectations that require hard work and effort to accomplish so that you might be proud of your efforts when (not if) you do succeed.  Remember that all things are possible, some just take a little longer to accomplish as they require a bit more creativity, thought or planning. 

In the big picture, improbable does not mean impossibleEquality is not the same as equitabilityHolding back does not mean giving up UNLESS you fail to begin.  Life has many beginnings but only one end.  Make the most of your opportunities as you seek new and different ways to make life truly matter – taking the time to develop and hone the talent needed to equip yourself with the tools needed to transform who you are to the successful individual you wish to be (and know you can become)!

Friday, July 24, 2015


Because we are people (and tend to rush to judgment), our “first impressions” often label those we encounter as being either “good” or “bad” (before we take the time to validate our assumptions).  While we often must act quickly, if we want to develop long-lasting or meaningful relationships we must take time to learn about others – about why they think, act and respond as they do rather than basing our opinions ONLY on what we see being accomplished – if we are to accept (or at least understand) people “as they are” rather than force them to become “what we would wish them to be.”  Four things we should consciously (and intentionally) avoid when meeting people for the first time (as our initial impressions and perceptions are established) would include:  

Investigate fully before making a judgement rather than allowing unfounded perceptions or “surface-driven” first thoughts to form your baseline from which all other actions, thoughts or decisions are built.  Working with a small machine shop that was struggling financially, a business owner reported that he would like all his employees to be like the 76-year old machinist that came back to work after retiring for a couple of years.  He cited the man’s loyalty and experience-based leadership – his ability to set an example for those working with him.  When asked, employees said that working with this “poor man” reinforced that they should jump at the first job opportunity that came along because they did not want to end up working until they were 76 because retirement was no more than a dream.  A “first impression” could have been established by listening to either the owner or the employees but looking into the “rest of the story” revealed an unconsidered truth.  The 76-year old knew what the owner thought and was pretty sure what his peers thought about his working but that both were wrong.  He stated (because someone had asked) that “if they knew my wife they would know why I like coming to work!”  Often our perceptions taint our thinking and we make decisions based on inaccurate (or untrue) information.  Always learn all the facts before making a judgment.

Before acting, clarify some of the “whys” before rushing to judgement on what was done (or not done) as anticipated.  Many years ago, my wife and kindergarten son were engaged in a heated discussion when I arrived home from work.  He found himself in trouble at home after going to the principal’s office for hitting another child with leaves on his first day of school.  My wife could not understand why he was sent to the office for hitting another child with leaves and he did not understand why she kept asking him the same question after he had clearly and concisely answered her inquiry with a specific and detailed response.  She was trying to extract an answer based on the information she had been provided – that he had hit someone with leaves and been sent to the office to explain.  He was answering her questions without offering any more information than asked – that he had hit someone with leaves and did not understand why he had been addressed.  I looked at my son and said, “How big of a stick were the leaves on?”  He quit crying and said “only an inch or so but nobody ASKED me about the stick!”  We often lose sight of where we are going because we so focus on what we think we know to be right.  Never form an opinion without first thinking about all the things that COULD BE rather than simply focusing upon what we think IS or has been in the past.  Acting on available information without asking for expansion or seeking clarification can often lead to disaster.

Do not assume to know what others are thinking or limit what they could contribute by inserting personal biases into their lives or extending your own limitations into their potential.  One of the most critical components within any relationship is to identify both strengths and weaknesses – maximizing the positive contributions while limiting those that might be more detrimental.  When asked, “What is the purpose of your job, an employee told me it was “…to bring to fruition the dreams of the owner.”  While this answer did nothing to define job responsibilities, it DID speak volumes to the owner about the employee’s understanding of his role in the company.  After reading that one response the employer started to think differently about his workforce, including them in decisions because they were much more invested in their future than he had previously thought.  In thinking that his employees “did only what they were told” rather than believing they could “contribute positively to his dream,” the owner had stifled the expression of improvements his staff could have made.  By listening to their suggestions – regardless of what he thought they might be able to contribute – his company began to grow and prosper exponentially.  Though many of us fight hard to “do things our way” and overlay that “way” upon those we work with, whenever we listen to others we find their contributions can be meaningful IF ONLY we allow them to express their thoughts, learn through failure and feel safe to grow. 

Think before acting – then act before your thinking paralyzes you.  Many individuals tend to shoot before aiming – often prior to even establishing a target – then spend countless hours repairing the damage they may have done through their rash actions.  While “things” can often be repaired or replaced when damaged by actions that disregard potential consequences initiates failure, PEOPLE tend to “scar” more easily and “fail to forget” more than they could ever learn from criticism (be it gentle OR relentless).  Forming a “first impression” is normal and natural BUT refusing to move beyond that baseline after learning more about a person, place or situation creates the basis for ongoing disappointment, frustration and failure.

People can contribute positively to us OR weigh us down, depending on how we approach them.  Rather than allowing “first impressions” to set your direction, make sure you pay enough attention to what is being said by others, why things are being done as they are, and what else could be accomplished.  When we verify our perceptions before we pass judgment we can often avoid making assumptions that could lead us down the wrong path.  If we actively seek what others think, listening to what they say (with both their words and their actions), we may find things are done for a reason (though not necessarily YOUR reason), move forward with good intentions (though not necessarily YOUR good intentions) and accomplish much (though not necessarily what YOU thought should be accomplished). 

Friday, July 10, 2015


Baseball is moving towards its all-star break (and the Tigers are struggling).  The Women’s World Cup has been completed (with the United States victorious).  Nike just signed a major contract to “outfit” the University of Michigan’s athletic teams (football season must be just around the corner). Surprisingly, 2015 has reached its halfway point, as well – revealing some interesting highs and lows that warrant discussion.

Michigan has experienced an excellent “growing season” to date – with crops and mosquitos greatly exceeding expectations (though golf courses and other facilities depending upon warm, dry weather are suffering).  Our Great Lakes, inland lakes and streams have reached near-record levels due to our abundant rainfall (but the west coast is preparing to ration water due to several years of drought). Our strategic oil reserves have reached capacity so a brief period of relatively inexpensive gasoline is helping us to travel more this summer (but government and environmental authorities seem committed to advancing solar and wind power by investing heavily into not-yet proven technology). Our economy seems impervious to disruption (though finding qualified workers is posing a significant challenge to our local employers and the International Financial situation in Greece has significantly subdued our national economic growth). We seem to be experiencing a time of contradiction – a period when all looks well on the surface until we dig down a bit to reveal a convoluted and unpredictable core.  Looking into some of the issues we are facing, some sad realities become apparent.

Why do we expect inexpensive gas and oil to be an everyday reality when we celebrate the fact that major oil companies must pay unprecedented penalties ON TOP OF repairing damages created by workplace accidents?  How can we expect alternative energy sources to emerge when we place in their paths insurmountable roadblocks?  How can we harness the wind’s energy when everyone wants turbines placed in someone else’s backyard?  How can nuclear energy grow when it takes nearly ten years to approve and build a new power plant?  Renewable energy sources are part of the solution – yet wood-burning furnaces have been restricted in many communities because they put out too much pollution.  While the impact on individual lives is staggering, the same people who enjoyed high-paying jobs within energy-producing companies lobby for compensatory relief and life-long security from their former employers should an accident occur.  Have we become a nation that takes credit for the good in life, seeking bounty from its offerings, yet assigning blame to others for the bad, seeking retribution and gain from their losses?  It seems that this dark aspect of our nature has not changed during the first part of 2015 – far too many seek to gain from others pain rather than trying to benefit from their own investments of sweat equity.

Small companies are expanding but are operating with fewer people making more things.  Since efficiency is up, expanding opportunities will not likely return our workforce to previous levels.  New companies are entering our region BUT employees able to do available work are coming with the company from outside of our current workforce (not everyone is eager to learn new skills).  While jobs are available, a higher level of expertise is required for employees to program machines, work with computerized systems and effectively communicate with others (both internally and externally).

While most companies have not given excessive pay increases during the last several years (if one pays attention to the media, our employers are exploiting their workers and making obscene profits), lower-paid employees have been added to the workforce so average rates do not appear to have increased as much as they have.  Interestingly, whether the economy moves along at a 2% or a 4% growth curve, average worker wages seem to increase (on average) about 2.5 – 3% (reflecting an influx of lower-paid workers into an economy filled with highly experienced workers).  Automotive suppliers seem to be stronger than in the recent past (but anticipate a bit of a slowdown through the first part of 2016).  In that next year is an election year, we often see a general slowing of the economy after May or June until the outcome of our vote has been revealed.  The service-sector is growing yet many non-profits depending on State funding are justifiably concerned as their income streams have been effectively choked off.  Our economy is improving but balances precariously on edge with any shift or delay from current growth trends poised to deal a staggering blow to our recovery.

As the second half of 2015 approaches, perhaps it is time we all returned to our roots – a free-market economy in which demand (rather than mandate) established supply and innovation (rather than mass-production) fulfilled our countries’ needs.  Long-term success always has (and always will) come to ethical people who produce an excellent product, provide exceptional service at a competitive price and/or enter into meaningful 2-way relationships that provide “win-win” situations rather than “my way or the highway” exclamations.  Though our region’s economic engine has not yet fully abandoned its “full steam ahead” expectation, we do hear initial rumblings asking, “What happened to all we had?”

Looking back at mid-year should encourage us to celebrate our accomplishments mildly – to enjoy all that we have done and immerse ourselves in the good that has come to us.  We must also, however, maintain awareness of what has yet to be identified (achieved or accomplished).  Much positive has happened during 2015 – perhaps it is time we allowed those things that have been but visualized to this point to become inspiration and destination for those around us as they continue to move forward through the second half of this year - as we bring reality to the dreams of our future.