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Maximizing the Impact of Employee Resource Groups

Maximizing the Impact of Employee Resource Groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are powerful tools to boost workplace wellness, culture, and productivity. ERG leaders and members are deeply passionate about this work—and with the right support from company leaders, the positive effects of these groups ripple throughout the entire organization.

What is an ERG?

Employee resource groups, or affinity groups, are voluntary, employee-led groups based on shared interests or social identities. Employee resource group examples include ones supporting race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Often, these groups are meant to serve employees who have been historically underrepresented in the workplace by offering peer support, networking opportunities, and a sense of community.

Why are ERGs important?

Employee resource groups contribute to workplace diversity and inclusion by fostering an accepting, supportive community where members can connect based on mutual understanding and interests. They encourage cultural competence, offer professional development opportunities, and positively impact business outcomes by inviting and amplifying varied perspectives within an organization.

Inclusion and belonging

ERGs can help counter feelings of isolation and disconnection at work. They provide safe spaces to forge bonds and feel validated by others who understand unique stressors like workplace cultural gaps and bias.

Attract and retain talent

The inclusive environments ERGs foster can help companies retain employees and attract new talent. Organizations that actively and fully support workers are more appealing to applicants, offering resources that resonate with and are inclusive of diverse experiences.

Positive work culture

Since they’re created by the community and for the community, employee resource groups contribute to a positive workplace culture by highlighting and celebrating the values that are important to their members.

Organizational feedback

ERGs can provide insights that help with organizational planning and decision-making. Members may raise work concerns and provide feedback to ERG leaders—and if they work hand-in-hand with company leaders, this direct line to workforce needs can be invaluable.

Build trust

Employee resource groups play a role in fostering psychological safety by cultivating familiar, respectful, and supportive relationships at work. This trust empowers employees to express their ideas freely, which research shows enhances worker innovation, engagement, and retention.

Support authenticity

ERGs also encourage authenticity by creating a level of safety that can allow employees to show up more as themselves, reducing the need for code-switching and masking. Code-switching is modifying things like language, appearance, or behavior to fit in or avoid negative evaluation, and is a common experience for many BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ employees. Masking refers to intentionally or unintentionally hiding aspects of your behavior or personality to conceal neurodivergent traits and avoid negative consequences. Removing these filters helps people feel more comfortable at work, allowing for more motivation and creativity.

Identify and develop leaders

Employee resource groups serve as platforms for leadership development through networking, mentorship, and skill-building. ERGs enable workers to share their expertise with relevant stakeholders and provide opportunities for dedicated feedback and recognition.

Drive social impact

ERGs often engage in community outreach, volunteer programs, and partnerships with external organizations, extending their company’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) beyond the workplace. This broader community impact is important for companies’ reputations, and can make a difference when it comes to recruiting top talent. Sixty-four percent of millennials say they’d turn down a job from a company that wasn’t socially conscious and Gen Zers often value purpose over salary.

Tips for creating effective ERGs

Company leaders can be catalysts for unlocking the potential of ERGs, driving innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity within their organization.

1. Set data goals

Help employee resource groups establish clear, measurable, and achievable goals using metrics like engagement and member surveys. Directly collecting data from ERGs ensures a more accurate, inclusive understanding of workers’ needs and concerns.

2. Make mental health a part of the conversation

It’s important to recognize the undeniable link between DEIB and mental health. Employees bring their life experiences to work, influencing their work styles, communication, and relationships. To address the impact of discrimination, bias, and stigma, integrate mental health resources into ERGs as part of your holistic approach.

3. Connect ERG leaders with mental health resources

ERG leaders are often the first point of contact for those struggling with mental health at work, given their highly visible roles and relationships with peers. Empower ERG leaders to make thoughtful referrals to mental health services and encourage open conversations about mental health. Breaking the stigma surrounding mental health is vital to ensuring people seek the help they need.

4. Compensate ERG leaders

Leading an ERG requires a significant time commitment, extending beyond regular work hours. Recognize the dedication of ERG leaders by providing stipends or bonuses. This acknowledgment reflects the value of their efforts and acknowledges how their role benefits the entire organization.

5. Offer bandwidth solutions

Participation in employee resource groups adds responsibilities to main job roles, and the demands on time and labor can be substantial. HR teams can support ERG leaders by offering flexible work hours or telecommuting options. Also consider creative solutions, such as ERG leader committees, to distribute the workload among several employees.

6. Provide the right resources

Maximize the impact of employee resource groups by ensuring they have the necessary resources, including adequate funding. Financial support enables ERGs to organize more trainings, professional development sessions, and community-building opportunities. Many ERGs also provide chances to connect with leaders in their industry, contributing further to professional growth and partnerships.

Build a culture of wellness through ERGs

Supporting employee resource groups signals a commitment to DEIB and psychological safety within the organization. By valuing employees’ well-being, you can foster a healthy workplace culture that cascades to all levels of the organization.

Build a more inclusive workplace with ERGs

Lyra offers expert support and toolkits to create effective ERGs.

Learn more
About the author
Evelyn Farías, MA, EdM

Evelyn Farías is a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) Program Specialist on the Workforce Transformation team at Lyra Health. She is the creator and leader of Lyra’s Community Leads Program which provides a community for leaders of employee resource groups and peer champions programs to learn best practices for mental health promotion. Prior to starting this role in 2022, she worked as a full-time therapist, specializing in working with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ populations in private practice and non-profit settings. Evelyn holds Master’s degrees in Psychological Counseling and Bilingual-Spanish Latinx Mental Health from Columbia University and is a former fellow of the American Psychological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program.

12 of December 2023 - 4 min read
Mental health at work
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