Street Talk: The human connection

Tribal support.
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Panelists at a Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business event this month said as pandemic restrictions continue to cause shifts at traditional workplaces, businesses and corporations that intentionally create a sense of belonging will thrive, as will their employees.

Leaders from three corporations spoke at the L. William Seidman Center during a Nov. 11 Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture, “The Future of Work.” They were Jordan Aldrich, director of corporate human resources for Meijer; Ryan Anderson, vice president of global research and insights for MillerKnoll; and Jennifer Tyler, director of integrated business planning for Dematic. 

The event was moderated by Benjamin Walsh, associate professor of management at GVSU.

Panelists discussed the balance of offering choices for working remotely while ensuring employees feel connected to their teams and organizations. Anderson said trying to build connectivity within work teams while employees are not in person is like having a long-distance relationship.

He also said the disruption of traditional work and any tension between employers and employees is amplified by today’s polarizing political climate.

“There’s such a disconnect in our country today, a polarization,” Anderson said. “Organizations that create a high degree of belonging among employees will foster better communities and will thrive.”

Tyler began working for Dematic two months ago after working for Steelcase in a similar capacity. She said it is difficult beginning a new job when most work is completed remotely, adding the shift to flexible work conditions did not begin with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a trajectory that didn’t start with the pandemic. I have had global teams and you have to work remotely,” Tyler said. “Those challenges for me, to try to bond with employees, build a sense of team and belonging, started before the pandemic. There is a need for human connection.”

Aldrich said corporate office employees at Meijer remain mostly remote. Best practices they found helpful to connect, she said, include using chat functions on Microsoft Teams or other programs, decreasing the number of daily video meetings and improving onboarding procedures for new employees.

“We are also creating more informal social connections as a team, not necessarily always meeting to talk about business. It’s important to bring your unique self to work,” Aldrich said.

The Secchia Lecture marked the first since its benefactor Peter Secchia died last year. 

Diana Lawson, dean of the Seidman College of Business, said the series was established by the Secchia family in 2006 to invite business leaders to discuss current topics with students, faculty and staff members and community members.

“It showcases the strength of our partnerships and works as an added advantage for our students to supplement what they are learning in the classroom,” she said. “The Secchia family has provided ongoing support for us to continue this important series.”

Long-term support

Employees of Trendway are coming together to provide holiday gifts for more than 70 foster children in Ottawa County this holiday season. Trendway employees have been teaming up with the Ottawa County office of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for its Angel Tree program since 1991.

Trendway earlier this month hosted an open house where team members collected gift tags, each with a special requested gift.

“Over the past 30 years, Trendway’s support of the Angel Tree program has truly been driven by our employees,” said Teresa Kouw, senior contract furniture sales coordinator, Trendway. “This is a special time of year where team members from every department enjoy coming together to ensure every child in foster care receives gifts from their wish list.”

Each child receives gifts valued up to $150 from their provided wish list. The presents will be delivered to the Ottawa County MDHHS office the week of Dec. 6 in a Trendway delivery vehicle. Foster care workers will deliver the gifts to children in the days leading up to Christmas.

About time

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior requesting an expedited decision and urgent action regarding the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians’ request for federal recognition.

They join other lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), as well as U.S. Rep. and Chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), which has primary jurisdiction over Indian Country, in urging action on the tribe’s lengthy quest for federal recognition.

“The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly placed a significant strain on Departmental resources, but it is also true that the Native American communities have been disproportionally affected by the global pandemic’s impact on public health and the economy,” Peters and Stabenow wrote in a letter. “The Department of Interior’s lack of urgency in issuing a determination on federal recognition potentially hinders Grand River Bands’ ability to access vital resources such as health services for tribal members and federal grants to promote self-sufficiency. The members and leadership of the Grand River Band deserve a fair and timely determination on federal recognition.”

Huizenga wrote a similar letter in September 2020.

“Michigan tribes sued the State of Michigan and the Department of Interior over fishing and hunting rights. Grand River couldn’t be a party to that lawsuit because it is not a federally recognized tribe,” wrote Huizenga. “Likewise, Grand River has become ineligible for tuition assistance because it isn’t a recognized tribe. There are countless other very concerning examples of this tribe’s rights being slowly taken away. If the tribe is not recognized soon, it will potentially lose even more rights and (that) will be an injustice to many.”

For 27 years, the Grand River Bands have been working to gain federal recognition, and their petition has been on the “active consideration list” since 2013.

Becoming federally recognized would allow the Grand River Bands access to resources that are afforded to federally recognized tribes, such as tuition, health care and housing assistance, said Ron Yob, chair of the Grand River Bands.

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