Originally posted on ATD.
2021 marked a huge surge in the “quitter’s market,” with an average of 4 million employees in the U.S. voluntarily leaving their jobs each month. Companies are increasingly struggling with employee retention, since remote work makes it easier than ever for individuals to find new work opportunities.
A useful tool in combating this issue is employee resource groups (ERGs). These employee-led networks engage individuals based on shared backgrounds or interests, such as people of color, women, LGBTQIA+, working parents, veterans, improving sustainability and more. Within companies, ERGs can serve as support groups or advocacy groups — or as both. Each ERG typically has one or more leaders who report to a sponsor on the company’s management team.
Companies that incorporate ERGs as part of their employee retention efforts are able to better promote a unified workforce by filling in any gaps in communications throughout the leadership chain.
One of the greatest benefits of ERGs is that they provide a direct line of communication between individuals and management. Each ERG consists of a leadership council that reports to a sponsoring executive. This creates a safe channel of communication that gives employees the confidence to speak up while still ensuring that their voices are heard by the people who can make a difference.
ERGs also encourage collaboration among individuals who may not work together on a daily basis. They get to connect on a personal level about shared interests, life experiences and more. It is a way to successfully foster genuine connections across the entire organization, creating a much more unified workforce.
Companies that are committed to DEIA efforts can successfully use ERGs as a form of inclusion that creates a welcoming workplace for all employees. Continuing to foster inclusion through ERGs creates a work culture in which everyone can participate and make meaningful contributions at all levels.
CREATING A SUPPORT SYSTEM
The organizational structure of ERGs gives employees the space to share their concerns and connect over common interests or backgrounds, whether the group centers around historically marginalized individuals or other shared traits.
ERGs serve as a platform for sharing resources, such as helpful programs, interesting articles or access to mentors. A group for working parents, for instance, can promote relevant corporate benefits to ensure greater participation in those resources, such as daycare stipends, flexible work arrangements or college savings assistance.
ERGs also foster support and understanding for allies as well. For instance, an ERG for BIPOC or LGBT employees does not only support employees who identify with that group. ERGs can also offer tips on allyship for employees who want to learn more. Thus, ERGs are another avenue to foster DEIA in a meaningful way for individuals across the company.
ENCOURAGING COLLABORATION AND GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
There must be ongoing work towards equity in order for those DEIA goals to be authentically accomplished.
ERG leaders can use member input to foster change when it comes to accessibility. In talking with group members, ERG leaders can uncover and point to issues that management may otherwise overlook, such as making a complicated process more efficient or adding greater accommodation for disabled employees.
Another benefit of launching a network of ERGs is to give employees opportunities to step up in leadership roles. This gives management a chance to identify and develop internal leaders who may have otherwise been overlooked due to unconscious bias or other reasons.
ERGs allow companies to be more deliberate with promotions and retention. By identifying and alleviating blind spots within an organization’s structure, management is able to amplify underrepresented voices and give all employees the resources needed to succeed.
PUTTING ERGs INTO ACTION
ERGs can be an extremely effective component of a company’s employee retention and DEIA efforts. They create a path to empower employees through communication and support while giving employees a stronger voice that is heard all the way up through management teams.
While ERGs are primarily designed to encourage employees, the benefits extend to the broader organization as well. Companies can leverage ERGs to engage and retain employees, while also identifying top talent to mentor through the management pipeline. Additionally, company leaders can leverage data and ideas from ERGs to eliminate blind spots in their business and foster a more enjoyable work environment, all of which contribute to better productivity and lower turnover.