We’re in an era where the concept of a lifelong job at one employer has fallen by the wayside.
Many members of the workforce are always on the lookout for better opportunities. The world of recruiting has largely moved to LinkedIn, making the process seamless and silent.
At the same time, tons of attractive perks and benefits that once encouraged lasting employee loyalty have become relics of the past. Still, leadership continuity and low turnover spark business successes.
Productivity depends on both retention and engagement at all levels of the enterprise. So...
How can today’s employers, in today’s job market, encourage that all-important engagement?
One terrific answer is employee resource groups.
What Is an Employee Resource Group (ERG)?
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led associations where team members join together in light of common interests, backgrounds, or demographics.
The modern employee resource group is one way employers of choice, especially in the tech industry, have made concrete strides toward improving workplace diversity.
Building on that purpose, ERGs have continued to grow and change. Originally, these groups were centered around race and gender, offering minorities an opportunity to present their concerns to management and advocate for change as a united front.
Today, though, ERGs have become much more niche. Some of the more popular groups acknowledged today are:
- People with disabilities
- Single/working parents
Why Are Employee Resource Groups Important?
Work relationships organically develop in every workplace environment. As coworkers learn more about shared interests and values, they form informal groups.
But by providing more official forums in the form of employee resource groups, your business can offer many benefits to team members and the enterprise at once.
Give Employees a Voice.
It can be intimidating for an employee to approach leadership on their own and bring attention to their concerns. They run the risk of being singled out or shot down.
ERGs help put these individuals in a collaborative group where, for lighter topics, some of their concerns can be addressed before it even has to go up the ladder.
And if it does, then those concerns are voiced as one entity that can be heard, valued, and engaged at all levels.
Improve Team Alignment.
Employees naturally build relationships with one another, but ERGs are a great way to facilitate connections that are both positive and productive at the same time.
Members can engage with coworkers who may be in different departments or on another team, fostering cooperation and company alignment.
Company culture gets a pretty big boost when cross-team interactions take place and the organization feels more like a collective enterprise than a bunch of smaller cogs.
Positive relationships mean happier workers. Happy workers mean a higher level of engagement.
When employees feel supported and have trust in their leadership, they have a stronger drive to perform well and be satisfied in their work. ERGs help fuel that machine, keeping employees engaged and encouraged in the workplace.
If there are any impediments, they can be brought up during group meetings and quickly addressed rather than having business growth stagnate.
Also, happy employees mean a longer employment lifecycle, minimizing employee turnover and streamlining the onboarding process for new team members.
Foster Diversity in POVs.
Employees can even learn more about the business by interacting with different departments, keying more into business drivers and strategies. As they share their experiences, tips, and tricks, conversations can spark new ideas and strategies.
Having multiple points of view means that a project is being seen at all angles. A strategy or campaign will be more refined, researched, and ready for a successful launch, driving great results for the business.
Once employee resource groups are established, they can largely be operated by member employees.
Still, it is vital these organizations receive full and enthusiastic support from high-level leadership. This ensures they are structured and supplied adequately to achieve their purposes.
Employee Resource Group Best Practices
Companies of all sizes and industries have experimented with the best ways to make employee resource groups effective. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when developing your own.
The whole point of ERGs is to give underrepresented voices an opportunity to communicate with each other and with leadership. Open lines are vital to the success of these groups, as well as honest communication.
Groups should be able to hold one another accountable through feedback, dialogue between demographics, and engaging employees at all levels.
This isn’t WWII we’re talking about. Nor is it in reference to having these groups join forces to overthrow The Man.
Even though different demographics and cultures have different perspectives, there are certain experiences that overlap. In fact, there are probably several members that will likely be a part of multiple groups.
Fostering communication between ERGs ensures that all team members are working toward the same goals. They can support one another when facing similar obstacles and keep the company in alignment.
And, on a more sympathetic note, it’s sometimes just really nice when a colleague, who may not be in the same boat as you, is still willing to offer a hand.
In a more socially conscious world today, trying to grow ERGs can be tricky. A company shouldn’t just assume that because someone is a part of a generalized demographic, they’ll be interested in joining a group just for the sake of it.
Yes, as human beings, we enjoy being among our peers. But it’s easy to offend a person by generalizing them.
This can be avoided by encouraging ERGs to pursue different goals.
A female employee may not be interested in joining what looks to be a social club.
But if it’s communicated that a women’s ERG has a focus on helping the company recruit, train, and retain a higher percentage of women and further penetrating the female consumer market, you may find her more enthusiastic about joining.
Establishing SMART goals keeps the practice from feeling like pigeonholing demographics and more like promoting and highlighting diversity.
Once objectives have been defined within the ERGs, it’s important for leadership to be roped into the conversation as well. Executive engagement can ensure well-structured progress and help ERG leaders align their goals with the company’s.
And, in most cases, but not always, corporate executives and leaders may not actually be eligible for joining most ERGs. They likely don’t have the same first-hand experiences or perspectives as their reports.
Being tuned into what conversations are being had in ERGs can provide executives with insights on their employees’ concerns, ideas, and interests, aligning the company even more.
5 of the Very Best Employee Resource Groups in Business Today
Since ERGs have been around since the 1960s, there's been quite a few official groups established that have lasted a good amount of time. Here are some of the largest and most notable employee resource groups today.
1. Ernst & Young Professional Networks
Recognized by Diversity Inc. for pioneering leadership in the world of ERGs, Ernst & Young is a global management consulting firm.
Due in large part to its world-class talent, it is seen as the top in its field. E&Y currently has more than a dozen ERGs and employee support groups.
One of the most interesting aspects of the E&Y approach is its creativity in recognizing where common interests lie. There are groups for working mothers, veterans, cancer survivors, speakers of French, and many others, all of which are encouraged to advocate for key populations.
2. Community NETwork at AT&T
Community NETwork has been called the key to AT&T’s exceptionally high retention rate and growing leadership presence among African American employees. With over 12,000 members, it is the oldest ERG at AT&T as well as its third largest.
Participants in Community NETwork partner with the company’s Executive Advocate Program (called Champions) to identify and cultivate high-potential leaders. This has resulted in pinpointing more than 30 high-potential individuals at the VP level.
3. The Young Professionals at TIAA (YoPros)
TIAA is a Fortune 100 financial services firm that has discovered an outstanding way to combat high turnover in its industry, especially among young people: Cultivate, challenge, and support them from the very beginning.
The centerpiece of that effort is The Young Professionals.
YoPros is one of eight ERGs at TIAA. It conducts various volunteer activities, get-togethers, and social media recruiting aimed at the next generation of finance talent. Top millennial employees want to work with enterprises that help them live their values, and TIAA truly takes that to the bank!
4. Women at Microsoft (W@M)
Women at Microsoft is held up as one of the greatest recent ERG success stories.
W@M works hard to empower and inspire women to shatter the glass ceiling both at Microsoft and within the community. It has a busy schedule of annual events to help participants expand their skills.
Planned, led, and directed by women, W@M is responsible for everything from recruiting drives at traditionally female colleges to developing relationships with women-owned suppliers. With support from W@M, more women can take the next step toward their dreams.
5. Military Support & Assistance Group (MSAG) at Bank of America
With a focus on aiding the transition from military life to civilian life, Bank of America has committed to providing resources to service members, veterans, and the families.
Led by their Military Affairs Team, the group has several initiatives focused on job recruiting, career advancement, and financial education. They're fighting to bring awareness to how difficult it can be to reintegrate and are offering solutions and opportunities to ease the process.
MSAG earned the 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award this year in honor of their works.
Who Will You Inspire With Employee Resource Groups at Your Organization?
Research by Gallup suggests that the problem of employee engagement is one of the biggest ones facing businesses worldwide.
According to their expert estimates, about 85 percent of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work – costing more than $7 trillion in annual productivity.
ERGs are a powerful and modern tool for motivating your people to deliver their best work.
Employee resource groups may not solve problems overnight, but they represent a powerful step forward to greater inclusion, diversity, and transparency.
With the examples above, you can start developing a plan to implement employee resource groups that will help your teams win.
They’ve inspired you. Who will you inspire next?