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, January 24, 2018


Why is it that so many people “live for today” rather than planning for tomorrow?  Why do they live in the past rather than chasing their dreams of a brighter future?  What comfort can be taken in things that have already been “said and done” knowing that closing the door to those things not yet imagined only traps us in a world holding no new experiences and having no opportunities to grow?  Sadly – particularly to those living within the comfort of their present reality – today will never be tomorrow but it cannot escape becoming yesterday when tomorrow, no longer the future, becomes today.

Many individuals view work as being their “beginning and their end.”  While paid activities may not have started as being a reason for living, the daily tasks, responsibilities and accomplishments that we immerse ourselves in can become more important to us than relationships, activities or travel.  Work is somehow predictable and rewarding.  It provides a venue in which we can excel (or at least contribute) and thrive (or, at a minimum, survive) without unexpected or unanticipated roadblocks altering our paths or activities.  Routine can be comforting to many – knowing what to do, what to expect and what to anticipate is somehow reassuring to those seeking the satisfaction of being a contributor (rather than an initiator) and accepted (rather than questioned or feared).  Individuals having achieved a measure of success and recognition in their past (athletes, public figures, industrial leaders, politicians) – particularly if they are not motivated to grow beyond the success they once achieved by identifying and developing a different strength or aptitude – are great examples of this sense of acceptance.  One of life’ greatest travesties can be seen when an athlete leaves school early for his or her shot at professional sports then has no “fallback career” when the window of opportunity slams shut.  These gifted entertainers live for today based on the skills and abilities they nurtured yesterday but often give very little thought about tomorrow (which, unfortunately, becomes today sooner than they could have ever realized).

People once grew for a season, learned for a season, worked for a season then retired to rest for the last season of their lives.  During the season of growth, children identified their strengths so they could be developed (and their weaknesses so they could be bolstered or avoided).  They sought interests and areas they liked before having to focus upon one or two paths that might ultimately lead to the realization of their dreams.  The season of growth was never meant to be lived in – only to be passed through on the road towards the season of learning.

Individuals went to school, work or the military to hone and develop the skills they developed during their youth.  The season of learning allowed people to experiment in a “safe environment” before having to utilize their abilities to earn a living or support a family.  Socialization, the widening and paving of paths discovered as a child and the crystallization of goals came together to help individuals spring from their “today” as they ventured into tomorrow – to build careers, become successful and “make their mark on the world.”  Though some might hold onto this season by augmenting their experience with lifelong learning, many built their castles upon the foundation of learning as they sought the security of a season of work.

Work, a season starting as a necessary means to accomplish a desired end, has been fed by ambition and nurtured by a sense of comparison to others (rather than a measure of what each individual might be able to contribute and accomplish individually).  The season of work has provided wealth, growth, sustenance, recognition and success for many – allowing individuals to identify areas in which the strengths identified as children and nurtured through learning are able to be applied to give them internal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.  These achievers rarely feel they are working in this season as they love what they do and either plan for a season of rest OR intentionally seek to avoid ever tasting such a time.  Others have found work to be a “necessary evil” rather than an enjoyable release.  They seek an escape from their season of work rather than an elevation into more responsible and rewarding levels.  They often perform as they are told (rather than fully utilizing their skill sets) and do what needs to be done (rather than what COULD be done).  Regardless of an individual’s perspective, the season of work eventually comes to an end so that we can enter the season of rest (either with open arms or with trepidation).

If an individual has successfully “lived for tomorrow” rather than being content with today – has moved from their past by developing their strengths to make a difference in whatever was accomplished – each day in the season of rest may become but a step of the ladder as one continues to climb towards their future.  An individual who was content with “today” during his or her season of work may find themselves living in yesterday’s world rather than identifying and reaching future goals.  The season of rest may become one of disenchantment – wishing for something that was never to be since no planning was ever done to make it a reality. 

Though today cannot become tomorrow, yesterday will never be forgotten if we build upon the skills identified in our youth to enhance our abilities as we learn that can be applied as we work so that we can rest having made a difference to all around us. 

“Live for Today?”  I think not…for tomorrow will soon come and I will dwell but for a moment within each passing day as I move constantly from yesterday towards a not-yet-realized future…

Friday, January 5, 2018


People used to work hard for most of their lives before stepping aside to enjoy the fruits of their labor in a seemingly short period of retirement.  They gladly left others to fill the void their absence created – seeking the time to do what they wanted to do rather than what they had to do.  Health insurance, an inexpensive benefit meant to prevent financial disaster caused by a serious health condition, was readily available at a reasonable cost upon retirement.  Designed to provide a source of income that would “give back” the money workers put into it to augment the responsibilities families shared with their aging relatives, Social Security became the primary resource for many aging individuals.  Employees fortunate enough to receive a pension while working often entered retirement with the thought of “living high” rather than of simply “getting by.”  Others planned to fund their golden years using equity from their home.  People focused more on “when” retirement was going to happen than “if” it could ever occur – rarely thinking about what they would do to fill their days.  Unfortunately, many live life "hoping for" a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow, seeking a hidden treasure buried within the caverns of their minds, rather than working to create a fulfilling life that can be supported and maintained through intentional planning.

Today, things have changed.  More workers are leaving the workforce than are entering it.  Family is taking a diminished role in caring for its aging members, often relying upon facilities that can provide appropriate medical care rather than putting their life on hold to help a relative in need.   Healthcare Insurance provides cradle to grave coverage for all conditions (or potential conditions – or lifestyle choices made to improve their perceived quality of life) but is so expensive that it is hard to pay premiums when no “condition” exists and harder yet to pay for unanticipated consequences should a major illness occur.  Our social welfare system takes care of individuals in ways that family and/or churches once did – with the responsibility to finance these services resting upon a minority of the population to support an ever-increasing majority of individuals choosing to leave the workplace.  Our Social Security safety net is no longer sustainable yet the meager funds available seem to be ear-marked for those that contributed least while disqualifying from benefits those that contributed most (since they probably saved individually for their own retirement rather than expecting some other entity to take care of them).  People COGNITIVELY understand that saving early in life for retirement makes sense yet few young people have the PRACTICAL ABILITY to begin saving when they really should – either because they feel invincible OR they cannot afford to save because of the high price of living and the relatively low available income stream.

Are YOU planning (and saving) for retirement or are you expecting a system that faces bankruptcy to care for you?  A recent survey found that the average retirement-aged American worker has savings of less than $50,000. Though housing prices are going up right now, and home equity is still seen as a source of retirement income, people are living independently longer so appreciated home value may or may not be available when needed to help fund retirement.  While the cost of living is relatively stable, the economy is precarious enough that a single “pebble” of economic or political unrest dropped into the sea in which we live could potentially cause a tidal wave that could destroy our unsuspecting shore.  While the best option for retirement savings would be to put as much away as possible from an early age, most do not truly begin saving until their mid- to late-forties.  There is no time, however, that is “bad” for beginning as long as we focus on the end we wish to achieve and take intentional and measured action to attain the security that comes with financial independence.  Take advantage of your organization’s retirement plan match (if one is available) to maximize your contributions and talk to your Plan Administrator to utilize investment options that “fit” your risk tolerance (how much you are willing to lose in the short run in order to maximize your gains in the long run).  We must think, anticipate, prepare, initiate, monitor and test everyday as we perform at work.  Unless individuals use the same perspective when taking on the responsibility for their own future they may find themselves woefully unprepared to enjoy the opportunities that a “different” lifestyle presents.

What are you relying on to help cushion your landing should you choose to escape the regularity of your work world and venture into the uncharted waters of retirement?  Are you preparing for the future or sitting passively on the sidelines waiting for life to happen?  Are you planning what you will do with the time you may have available if you do not adhere to a structured schedule?  We all have been “important” to others while working – fulfilling a vital need, supporting a necessary process, contributing to the success of others – what are you doing about filling that “satisfaction” void that many face when they leave the workforce EVEN IF they are financially prepared?  Most would say that “stepping aside” is never easy.  Having a sound plan as to how you will make yourself FEEL whole and a well-funded retirement nest egg that will provide financial peace of mind as you open a new chapter in your book of life will determine whether you begin your new adventure having a “golden goose” to support you or discovering that your “goose has been cooked,” providing you with short-term support but NOT the long-term comfort you had imagined.  Having fiscal peace, though important, is not enough.  Plan ways that you can continue to make a difference BEFORE you retire so that you can maintain the sense of value and worth you receive during your days of obligation at work throughout your days of opportunity beyond the work environment.