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How Employee Resource Groups Improve Employee Engagement

Posted Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Programs & Events, Business Tips

How can companies increase retention, establish mentors, promote business goals, and build morale all at the same time? It may sound like a tall order, but it seems that there actually is a way: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

Larry Turner, a Partner, Morgan Lewis, defines ERGs this way: “It’s a way to use a common aspect of a shared experience to pursue a legitimate business goal.”

Kimberly Strickland, Market Inclusion Leader, PriceWaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC), explains how her company has implemented ERGs, which they refer to as circles. “We use circles as a way to form connection points and support groups for employees who have traits or characteristics in common or who have priorities in common.” For example, PwC has formed circles for working parents, employees who have caregiving responsibilities for disabled relatives, and the LGBT community.

Turner and Strickland recently participated in a roundtable discussion organized by the Chamber highlighting how companies can implement ERGs at their organizations.

Natural Source for Mentors

Strickland and Turner both stress that while ERGs are an efficient way for employees to build relationships with coworkers, it’s important that the groups have defined structure as well as a legitimate business purpose. Some examples of goals might be promoting the company’s brand, fostering diversity, building morale, or increasing productivity and profitability.

“Two of our main drivers are increased retention and engagement,” says Strickland. “We’ve also seen increased performance and have found that our circles offer a ready source for mentors.”

PwC decided to expand upon the mentor idea in a formal way. “We started a database called Mentor Moms,” say Strickland. “It allows employees to put in a little about themselves and their situation and then get paired up with another female staffer who is willing to act as a mentor.” Strickland notes that the program has been especially effective in helping to ease new mothers back to work after maternity leave.

Where Should Employers Start?

Turner advises that companies allow people to self-identify their groups. Then he has three pieces of advice:

  1. Have a firm set of criteria, making sure there is a clear understanding of the group’s legitimate business purpose
  2. Ensure there is consistency in how the criteria is applied between groups
  3. Understand that each ERG is different

He also states the importance keeping groups on track. Ensuring that each group has a stated business purpose will help keep sessions from turning into gripe sessions. It’s important for ERGs to stay focused on the specific goal, rather than going too broad and trying to “save the world.”

Building Success

For ERGs to succeed, Strickland stresses the necessity of having buy-in on every level. “You need engagement from leaders. You also want to make sure that you’re in tune with the staff who are leading the circles, and that they understand the business strategy. The key is having buy-in locally and at the board level.”

This event was part of our HR Roundtable series, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare. If you are a Human Resource professional, interested in attending a future roundtable event, please contact Erin Welsh at 215-790-3675 or ewelsh@gpcc.com

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