Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

Use Employee Resource Groups to Unify Employees (And How to Do It)

Companies face a number of challenges in today’s landscape, including high employee turnover and political polarization. These issues make it difficult to keep the fabric of their company intact and promote a unified workforce. However, both employee retention and unity can be addressed by strategically launching a network of employee resource groups (ERGs).

A successful ERG program can be used to combat the negative effects of the Great Resignation by giving a voice to employees; enticing new hires; and supporting a company’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts.

ERGs Explained

An ERG is a volunteer group designed to create a more inclusive work environment while establishing a chain of communication between employees and leaders within the company. Each ERG is formed around a theme, generally based on a shared trait among its members. The goal is to create a supportive place for employees to openly share with each other while giving them an opportunity to voice questions, concerns, and ideas that can be elevated to the company’s leadership team.

Common ERG themes include:

  • Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)
  • Community volunteers
  • Differently abled employees
  • Eco-conscious employees
  • LGBTQ+ employees
  • Mental health advocates
  • Parents
  • Recent college graduates
  • Women
  • Veterans

Membership can include both people who identify with the theme and allies. Even more broadly, each ERG theme can be created under one of three different categories: social, advocacy, or external partnerships. Companies that are starting their ERG journey may not need this level of distinction, but it can be helpful once popularity begins to grow and there are more options available.

Often, an employee is appointed or elected as the leader of the ERG, and that person is responsible for regularly checking in with an executive sponsor of the group. This is a crucial part of the structure because it ensures an authentic line of communication.

ERGs can provide employees with support just by creating a safe environment for them to talk with others with similar life experiences. Yet, there must also be collaboration between employees and leadership to initiate effective programming and conversations to combat social issues. ERGs help companies discover and address blind spots from unconscious bias and ensure there are advocates for administrative changes that need to be made, such as creating gender-neutral bathrooms.

No matter what the organization’s mission and values are, there are ways to incorporate ERGs to authentically achieve them. Executive buy-in is a must in order to truly maximize the impact ERGs can have on an organization and its employees.

Why ERGS Are Important for DEIA and Retention

ERGs are an increasingly popular way to engage employees and amplify their voice throughout an organization. In fact, from 2020 to 2021, the number of U.S. companies with ERGs jumped by 9%, accounting for a full 40% of U.S. companies.

This shows there is a significant opportunity for companies that add ERGs to their DEIA efforts. This opportunity exists because ERGs are a growing trend that more candidates are interested in, but ERGs are not yet an established benefit at many companies across the country. Organizations that begin to utilize ERGs can position themselves for better retention efforts, particularly in the face of unique hiring issues as a result of the Great Resignation.

ERGs are also an important component of attracting younger employees. Members of Gen Z (with the oldest constituents now in their mid-20s) place a high level of importance on mental health and wellness benefits, with 66% preferring a company culture with these values.

Employees of all ages benefit from the feeling of unity and inclusion within their company, particularly as the world feels more divisive than ever. They will feel accepted and will appreciate that they can express their true selves in the workplace, which is a huge part of DEIA, even if the metrics are not entirely measurable.

Organizations may, however, notice measurable results in their retention efforts. Not only do ERGs allow a line of communication between employees and executives, but the structure also helps to identify emerging talent that may not otherwise be identified. ERG leaders gain more exposure in front of the executive team and can be tapped for other development opportunities, as well. 

Final Thoughts

Companies that launch a network of ERGs are better positioned to weather the storm of hiring challenges and high turnover rates. While HR professionals cannot fix every issue facing the industry today, they can leverage their best resource—namely, employees—to create an engaging, inclusive work environment. ERGs can be launched on a bare-bones budget because the people themselves are the real asset. Paired with a committed leadership team, the entire organization will start noticing a much more inclusive, accessible company culture.

Derrick Coleman is the Search and Staffing Practice Leader at GHJ. Search and staffing specializes in the placement of accounting and finance professionals into temporary and permanent positions across a broad range of industries.

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