Leveraging Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for enhanced Employee Engagement

When we look at the history of ERGs, they were initially formed in the USA as race based affinity groups to help unite black employees and assist them in on-boarding and enabling smooth transition of newly hired employees. These were voluntary teams of employees within organizations who came together to share their common experiences and concerns and help under-represented groups. They were formally christened as “Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)” later on.

Evolution of ERGs

ERGs have undergone a few rounds of evolution in the past few decades. Today ERGs could be formed based on a specific social issue (environment, literacy, palliative care, etc), or professional field (engineers, technology professionals, etc) or identity related characteristics (women, LGBT, PwD, Veterans, parents, etc). The key principle related to ERGs is that these are voluntary, employee-led groups. ERGs often align with the vision, mission, values, and objectives of their organizations. ERGs have been instrumental in sensitizing employees about the needs of specific groups, by helping organizations in breaking the cycle of discrimination and by facilitating innovative ideas to solve business problems. ERGs often function as business resource groups and business networks today.

Role of ERGs in enhancing Employee Engagement

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have a history of facilitating a sense of calmness during crisis. Being faced with the current pandemic related challenges, ERGs of several organizations have stepped up by helping to model the organizational values and strengthen the support for employees. ERGs act as networking groups and are important vehicles to drive inclusion within an organization. Their key role is to drive employee engagement consistently, and motivate employees to rise to the fullest of their potential. Here are a few ways in which ERGs can enhance employee engagement:

  1. Enhance connection and promote emotional well-being – For employees, a sense of feeling connected with each other is now more critical than ever. ERGs provide an avenue for employees to engage with one another and feel more connected to the organizational community. Several ERGs have been focusing on skill development and mental well-being of employees. They have been helping employees cope with everyday stress by frequently engaging them online and by openly sharing their problems with their leaders. Some ERGs are engaging their employees by conducting wellness sessions on mental health and guided meditation while also teaching employees new skills for stress relief. For example, learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument, and so on. Employees find such initiatives effective to spend an hour doing something creative to release stress and to create a meaningful bonding amongst one another.
  2. Share resources to manage work and family issues – ERGs can play a big role in assisting employees to manage work and family issues. Flexible working guidelines of the organization can be reviewed to check if any new policies or processes need to be introduced to support the needs of certain section of employees like working parents, PwD team members, caregivers, etc. Several ERGs have also facilitated expert led webinars or learning sessions raging from topics on parenting during remote working, eldercare, home schooling, guilt management, health and nutrition to pet care and hobby classes to engage children.
  3. Facilitate Mentoring – ERGs can also become mentoring groups. Corporate mentoring programs facilitated by ERGs can help participants to understand how to build and maintain relationships, obtain power and influence within the organization, and establish effective networks. Mentorship Programs can target a diverse group to pair emerging leaders with colleagues and aid them in professional development through knowledge and experience sharing. Peer-to-peer mentoring and reverse mentoring pairs can also be facilitated via ERGs.
  4. Enable Allyship – Employee resource groups also offer an opportunity to build allyship and create an environment for employees to learn from each other and learn about each other, especially when identities and cultural norms are different from one’s own. PwD related ERGs can help co-workers understand what it is like to live with a disability, visible or not. Similarly LGBT related ERGs can promote awareness on the spectrum of gender identities. ERGs can promote greater awareness and understanding, and thus facilitate advocacy and allyship. Certain success stories have also proved that ERGs can work towards developing women talent with support and advocacy from their male peers – Men as Allies. ERGs can help women professionals in career advancement through learning sessions, mentoring and sponsorship. One of the surveys from Catalyst also found that ERGs can help in increasing the employee retention rate by 50%.
  5. Facilitate Volunteering – ERGs, whose values are to give back to the community, are actively engaging employees in giving back to people who are in need within and outside their organizations. ERG members can volunteer together in a variety of ways—from daylong opportunities to support fund raising events to long-term relationships by collaborating with non-profit organizations. Volunteering can be a great way for employees to practice inclusion. It creates opportunity for reflection and discussion, and can change how employees think, behave and act at work, at home and in the community.

ERGs are invaluable assets to organizations as they promote a safe place for employees to express their feelings and foster a diverse and inclusive environment. They give employees a common platform, engagement tools and resources to connect with each other. With leadership commitment, strong strategy and organizational intent, ERGs can be a great means for employees to engage with each other internally while connecting with communities externally to make a social impact.

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