Kelly Keeps Employees Functioning

May 20, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Beth Kelly is living the dream. As director of the Employee Assistance Center (EAC), Kelly has combined personal and professional aspects she loves about her life and come up with a job that fulfills every avenue of her interests.

“I really enjoyed working with people and I knew I liked bringing them together under a collective vision and understanding what people brought to the workplace and how that helped them in their business,” she said.

That was something Kelly discovered about herself when completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan. From there, she went on to receive her graduate degree in labor and industrial relations from Michigan State.

“It wasn’t until I started at Foremost Insurance Company that I was better prepared for the practical side,” Kelly said. “You learn a lot of theory in school but then when you have to use it in reality, it can sometimes be a challenge.”

From there Kelly learned of an opening at Cascade Engineering. At the time Cascade had 110 employees and was just opening a second facility. When Kelly left the company 10 years later, there were 700 people employed in three joint ventures.

“The reason that I had been hired there was because there was a commitment to developing work teams and to building an exceptional organization that would attract the best talent, so that we could really do something more innovative — leading-edge kind of work — and that commitment stayed true,” Kelly said.

After her 10 years with Cascade Engineering Kelly left to pursue an opportunity at D&W Food Centers. She noted that it was a larger organization, and a step up, but still had the same ideals and same values she had been working toward at Cascade Engineering.

“I worked there for two years until I decided that it was time for me to go and try something that I had always wanted to try, which was starting my own business called The Human Element,” said Kelly. “For a brief period of time I was a consultant working with primarily the small to medium-sized businesses. I did that for five years and probably would have continued doing that had it not been for a call from the Employee Assistance Center asking if I would be interested in the director’s position.

“I was familiar with the Employee Assistance Center from my days with Cascade Engineering when in the late ’80s we had signed on with them because it just made sense for what we were trying to accomplish. This was an investment in people that would help us to grow our business and be successful in our business. It was good for the individual. It was good for the business. It was a relatively inexpensive investment given the return we were going to get. It was really a no-brainer.”

Kelly explained EAC’s services through the example of Cascade Engineering: “Say Cascade Engineering had an employee that was struggling with marital problems or financial difficulties or had an adolescent that was rebelling; they could call the EAC for help,” Kelly said. “We have 12 master’s-level therapists and that is who they get to talk to. A lot of times it is just one or two phone calls to get you on the path, but if the problem is more complicated than that or it requires a more intense look, the therapists are trained to know the resources in this community and they can refer them to outside help.”

As a manager Kelly had discovered she was good at organizing a workstation and delegating work assignments, but not really good at dealing with employees’ personal issues — sometimes very difficult personal issues. That is where the EAC is able to step in and expertly handle situations that arise.

Kelly said the EAC job was one of only about five positions that she always kept her eyes on and thought, “Well, if that job ever comes available, I would love to have it. Because it allows me to work in a leadership capacity and have direct responsibility and accountability for helping an organization to grow, which is that entrepreneurial side that I kind of like, but it is doing it with a human resource focus and product, and so the two of them together is a great opportunity. This is a perfect job.”

The EAC operates on a speak-when-spoken-to basis. It lays the groundwork, provides the resources, and then sits back and waits for employees or supervisors to reach out for assistance.

“We provide employees’ employee assistance programs. We provide training, literature and also simply serve as a resource,” Kelly said.

All services, included in what Kelly called the “standard package,” cost a company a set fee per employee, per year. And how that fee is interpreted and the services utilized are completely up to the company and its employees.

The EAC has always been a resource both to the employer and the employee and was first established more than 20 years ago as a subsidiary of Project Rehab, but was constructed in a different manner.

“It was at that time that the manufacturers, mainly automotive, were looking to build a quality-of-work-life program. When the EAC first started it really grew out of the substance abuse programs because that is where it was needed, primarily in the manufacturing community. Project Rehab was the organization that had the foresight to create this model and go from there, and the theory behind our group is to recognize the individual as a human being with personal problems and that sort of thing and to help them to resolve them so that they can be more productive in the workplace,” Kelly said.

“When you are dealing with a crisis in your personal life the last thing that you want to do or are prepared to do is to go out and research a field you have no knowledge of and try to make good consumer decisions about where you are going to purchase assistance. It is not like buying a car.”

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