Perhaps more than at any time in modern history, employees have greater autonomy than ever. A record number of employees are now working remotely or through a hybrid arrangement (office/remote), and employees in large corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks are flexing their muscles by exploring unionization.
Another way employees are banding together is through increasingly popular employee resource groups. What are these groups, why are they gaining in popularity, how do they help employers, and why should you join or start one? Let's take a closer look.
Employee resource group definition
An employee resource group (ERG), also known as an employee network group, is a collective of employees who meet together and who share common characteristics or life experiences. It is voluntary, employee-led, and designed to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace.
ERGs originated in the 1960s at Xerox, when Black workers organized to discuss race-based tension in the workplace. Groups are seen as increasingly relevant now as gender issues, racial issues, and political differences affect everyone.
According to TOPMBA, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies now have an ERG. Groups are designed to support employees with common characteristics, but being workplace-based, they are also aligned with the company's mission, values, goals, and business practices.
Examples of employee resource groups
Creative employees have bonded around a wide variety of employee resource groups, including:
- Women’s networks
- Groups for people of color
- LGBTQ+ groups
- Working parent support groups
- Sustainability committees
- Veteran support groups
- Networks for people with disabilities
- Mental health advocacy groups
- Mentorship programs
- Young professional networks
- Community impact and volunteerism committees
Employee resource groups such as those mentioned above have been likened to “think tanks,” where people gather together to brainstorm ways to improve their lives and the lives of others, and benefit their company by pooling their time and talent for a cause they believe in.
Why join an employee resource group?
Unless you want to maintain your privacy, you have nothing to lose by joining an employee resource group. They benefit employees in many ways.
Belonging to an ERG allows you to grow from the shared experiences of people who share some of the same traits.
For example, if you or a family member have suffered from depression or anxiety, a mental health advocacy group can help you better understand mental disorders and the mental health crisis in America.
Or, if you are a recent veteran, a veteran support group led by an older, fellow veteran employee can help you acclimate more comfortably to working in the public sector.
Training & development
Some ERGs also help you grow in your career. For example, as a recent graduate in a new management position, participating in a young professional network can help you learn some of the tools and techniques your peers are using to be effective in their roles.
Being actively involved in an employee resource group gives you the dual opportunity to mentor and be mentored, which can benefit you and others. Mentoring lets employees help each other, both personally and professionally.
Many ERGs are comprised of rank and file employees, middle managers, and executives. Groups help you network with peers who may someday help you along your career path, as well as current leadership who may take an interest in you and be helpful in your professional growth.
Networking as a manager also exposes you to employees you may not know very well and learn more about their interests and potential. Everyone wins through networking, including employees and the corporation.
There is power in numbers. If your employee resource group is focused on affecting change either within the company or out in the community, it lets you pull together and get more accomplished collectively than you could individually.
ERGs can lead to policy changes, affect the company’s mission and values, and impact cultural change. Relationships between employees and management can be dramatically improved through your participation in an employee resource group.
ERGs are also a place where new friendships are forged and existing ones can be bolstered. You can interact with people you’ve not met before in meetings and events and build new friendships more easily because you share similar interests. And, time spent with old friends strengthens the bond between you.
Benefits of employee resource groups for employers
Not only do employee resource groups benefit employees, but open-minded and supportive companies can also reap the rewards of ERGs through:
ERGs can shed light on issues the company and its employees are facing. An ERG can employ out-of-the-box thinking that uncovers solutions to corporate and social challenges that management hasn’t arrived at. New eyes looking at an existing problem often come up with new solutions.
In today’s environment, finding talented employees is challenging for most industries. Most potential employees spend time on a hiring company’s website, and many of them are looking on those sites for a company that not only can fulfill their professional needs, but is forward-thinking enough to promote ERGs.
An even bigger challenge employers are facing, as evidenced by The Great Resignation, is employee retention. Employees who participate in ERGs are more engaged than those who aren’t, and their tie to a group can be an important factor in their decision to leave the company for a new opportunity or stay where they are and remain connected to a group that is important to their sense of well-being.
Employees who belong to an ERG are great brand ambassadors when they’re involved in community outreach. They are also promoters of the company brand when they speak well of their employer because they appreciate the support the company gives the group.
If you see a need for an employee resource group where you work — start one. Is there a purpose or cause you’re committed to that could be advanced through a new group? If so, take the reins and make it happen. If your new group is aligned with your employer’s values, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the support you get from the company.
And, as important, you’ll be helping yourself, your fellow employees, your employer, and your community by helping everyone develop and band together for the common good. Take the time today to find the need and create a group that can affect the change everyone needs.
The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.