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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003
 

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Work~Connections, U-M departments help employee begin new career

As he was mopping a stairwell in Mary Markley's B Hall in Jan. 2002, Greg McKenzie, felt what he described as a "freaky, weird thing." A burning began in his right elbow, but McKenzie, then a custodian II in the Housing Department, continued to mop because he thought he could work through the burning sensation.

The pain continued the next day, and McKenzie had trouble lifting his arm. He realized it was more serious than he originally thought, so he reported the injury to his supervisor, who sent him to MWorks.
Greg McKenzie (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

Two hand surgeons diagnosed him with tendonitis, and one of them advised him to stop using his right hand completely. Since microtears were a serious concern, the surgeons have not operated on McKenzie.

The injury could have been a devastating blow to McKenzie, who relied on the mobility of his hands for his livelihood. But with the help of several people at the University, the incident turned into a new set of opportunities that have taken McKenzie's career path in an entirely new direction.

Diane Tryon of U-M's Work~Connections, began working on McKenzie's case. "Greg was totally motivated to return to work," Tryon says. "He didn't want to be off the first week."

The next month, Tryon placed McKenzie with the Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) Department as a temporary driver. McKenzie performed the job with a splint on his right hand, which he wore May-Oct. 2002.

As a cost-saving measure, OSEH downsized its fleet of vehicles, giving up the car McKenzie used to transport staff to different locations on campus, thereby eliminating the need for a temporary driver.

Because there was a need in the office for temporary clerical help, Belinda Driver, OSEH's office manager, asked McKenzie if he would like to remain with OSEH as a clerical temp. He always had expressed an interest in helping out wherever he could, Driver said, and offering McKenzie this job would not only fill a need in the department, but it would also give him an opportunity to learn new skills.

One of his new assignments was to cover the front reception area, staffed by other temporary employees. He made such a good impression that Terry Alexander, director of OSEH, gave his approval to hire McKenzie as the full-time receptionist for the department in Oct. 2002.

Driver notes that she often receives e-mails and phone calls praising "the guy at the front desk." A couple of times, she says, "Our customers were alarmed when someone else answered their call; we had to assure them he was on his break. I can't remember getting so much feedback about anyone up there. He's eager to learn. He's looking at this as one door closing while another one opens up."

She adds, "Greg is a very welcome addition to OSEH. It's too bad he was injured, but it gave him an opportunity he might not have had otherwise. And, of course, it has worked out well for OSEH."

When he started the job full-time, "it was such a happy day," McKenzie says. "It was like starting at the U all over."

It was not as happy of a day for others at the University, including Margo Messina, assistant building facilities manager for Mary Markley, who supervised McKenzie. "Greg was always one who was willing to do what I needed him to do, whether it was cleaning or moving. He was one we were hoping would come back fully recovered," she says. "He was a good worker. It was shame to see him go elsewhere, but I was happy for him."

McKenzie says he misses the people he used to work with, but he also enjoys working at OSEH. Now he plans to go back to school, and says "the sky's the limit" when it comes to his future.

Tryon notes that "these success stories are largely due to Work~Connections, but are dependent on the employees' incentive and motivation to return to work early." She says when she first started working for U-M, there were many injured employees with medical restrictions whom she couldn't accommodate with jobs.

"Now departments are accommodating their own employees," she says, "and when a job becomes available it is a challenge to find an injured employee in need of placement."

For more information on Work~Connections, visit http://www.umich.edu/~connect , call (734) 615-0643 or (877) 869-5266 (UMWKCON), fax (734) 936-1913 or e-mail Work.Connections@umich.edu.

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