An employee resource group (ERG) is a social circle of employees who voluntarily join together based on shared identity, values, interests, perspectives, or goals. The purpose of employee resource groups, or affinity groups, is to strengthen workplace relationships, foster a sense of belonging, promote personal and professional growth, and ultimately, nurture the entire company community. 

Employee resource groups first began in the 1960s to bolster the voice of minorities in the workplace. Today, ERGs represent general demographic groups, such as a woman’s ERG or a Latino ERG, or, more specific groups, such as single parents, veterans, or cancer survivors. 

Why should HR leaders care about employee resource groups?

Individuals naturally build relationships with friends in the workplace. Employee resource groups can offer another level of community: a framework for like-minded individuals to support and advocate for one another and voice shared concerns to management or senior leadership. 

ERGs can also help attract or recruit potential candidates who identify with a specific ERG and nurture a sense of belonging within the organization. For example, a woman’s ERG may source female candidates and provide mentorship for female employees in personal and career development. Ultimately, ERGs can boost morale, engagement, lower turnover rates, strengthen demographic diversity, and infuse more meaning into the workplace. 

What can HR leaders do to support the success of employee resource groups?

HR leaders can support the establishment and growth of ERGs through these practices:

  • Establish ERG bylaws. Draft a straightforward document that includes the ERG bylaws. To maintain fairness, employers must have rules that apply equally to every ERG.
  • Maintain ERG transparency. ERGs should establish their internal group policies (that align with company bylaws), mission statement, purpose, objectives, and role. Defining the group identity and goals can avoid stagnation and increase chances of growth and success.  
  • Demonstrate inclusivity. An employee who doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria of an ERG may still want to join for personal reasons. Letting the employee join– as long as they don’t disrupt the group– illustrates an inclusive company culture.
  • Foster networking between different ERGs. An organization’s strength lies in its unity between all employees. Facilitating inter-ERG networking opportunities encourages employees to connect. Holding optional cross-ERG recreational activities such as happy hour, scavenger hunts, or beach clean-ups, for example, can foster relationships between employees across different groups. 
  • Provide leadership opportunities. Each ERG needs an employee leader from within the group. HR professionals and managers can collaborate to identify emerging leaders and coach them throughout their ERG leadership position.

How can an employee resource group improve company culture?

ERGs that offer equal opportunities for every employee can provide a supportive micro-community for personnel. In turn, ERGs can empower employees to feel comfortable sharing their unique voices and contributing to an inclusive and vibrant company culture.