Employee resource groups (ERGs)—also known as business resource groups (BRGs), employee networks, etc.—are designed in part to support a more diverse and inclusive workplace, enhance engagement, and strengthen the culture of their organizations. ERGs also offer participants an opportunity to work closely with peers and colleagues to expand their professional networks.
That quote opened i4cp’s The Untapped Power of Employee Resource Groups. The study was published two years ago but has never resonated more strongly than it does today.
Why? Because the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged employers to muster every resource available to them in their efforts to ramp up mental health support for their workforces and to ensure that their organizational cultures remain tangible and unifying forces during the health crisis. ERGs have responded to those needs and others, too.
For many organizations, employee groups quickly became go-to sources for help with employee communications and in maintaining connections in turbulent times. In March of this year, as companies were still scrambling to rearrange work and workers, an i4cp poll discovered that ERGs were already proving their value in multiple ways:
When the aftermath of the death of George Floyd (and those of too many other people of color) turned attention to racial inequities, ERGs stepped up again, making it their missions to rally and sustain their members, while advising and helping to guide employers and their workforces toward constructive and positive actions and interactions.
A June 2020 i4cp survey on Organizational Action on Racial Equity found nine out of 10 large companies taking some kind of action on racial equity, and almost half (46%) reported that they were tapping into one or more ERGs, asking for the groups’ participation in developing action plans.
The evolving roles of ERGs continue to be evident not only in the quantitative data, but also in the strategies and actions shared by participants in weekly Action Calls i4cp has hosted since the onset of the pandemic. For example:
- In a West Coast pharmaceutical firm, ERGs work to provide useful resources and support for working parents.
- Another West Coast company’s ERG for working parents was active before the pandemic with an internal communications channel where members connected. When COVID-19 hit, the group mobilized to spread word of local school and daycare closings. Leaders in all organizational ERGs escalated issues to the company CEO and his direct reports and drove communication from the CHRO about policies and support for employees.
- In other organizations groups send newsletters with resources for employees and their families; sponsor virtual hangouts and panels to maintain workforce engagement; spearhead such events as spirit weeks, talent shows, or book clubs; and spotlight employees’ family members on the frontlines—medical workers or those in military service.
- Another organization’s African American BRG secured a professor to speak about racial inequities and social system structures in an hour-long webinar that attracted more than 1,000 employees. The event was recorded for wider distribution across the company and for those unable to attend the live version.
Those few data points and examples demonstrate just a few of the ways employee resource groups are contributing vital support to organizations and their workforces. And each week as the health crisis unfolds, companies share more innovative interventions that signal the continuously evolving and powerful roles ERGs are taking on or expanding.
For more information on the unique ways organizations are leveraging their ERGs and other internal resources to respond constructively to the health crisis and social unrest, visit i4cp’s Employer Resource Center.