If you’re looking for new ways to engage your team and improve camaraderie, employee resource groups can be a great option. Here’s how to get started.
So, what are they?
groups of employees who share some trait or life circumstance. Think of them as
clubs within the workplace.
examples of employee resource groups include those focused on:
- A specific race or ethnicity
- A gender
- LGBTQ status
the growing popularity of employee resource groups – as well as the changing
nature of the workplace – means that they’ve become more diverse in focus.
These days, it’s not unusual to find groups centered on remote workers,
caregivers (parents of minor children or those who care for
elderly parents, for example) or even various interests.
resource groups are open to:
- Those who fit
certain traits or circumstances
- Those who share
an interest in a topic and want to learn more
- Those who want to
serve as an ally and advocate for a specific group of people
other words, anyone who wants to participate can join these groups.
purpose is to:
- Give a voice and
greater visibility to certain groups, especially those who are underrepresented
in an industry.
opportunities for groups who have historically faced adversity in society or roadblocks
in career advancement.
- Create a positive
dialogue and boost interaction among team members.
- Help everyone feel
included and valued.
Value for businesses
are many compelling reasons why employee resource groups have become so
prevalent within businesses of all sizes – to the extent that more than half of
Fortune 500 companies offer them today.
because employee resource groups are valuable for businesses:
- They support diversity and inclusion initiatives, including recruitment and outreach.
- They generate goodwill for businesses within the surrounding community, through charitable initiatives and volunteerism.
- They can help businesses to better understand certain target audiences by allowing members to serve as an in-house focus group.
- They can improve employee engagement and loyalty to companies, which are associated with longer tenure.
- They’re a source of ongoing education and training for employees. For example, you could bring in speakers to lecture on a certain topic or host a lunch-and-learn meeting.
Value for employees
resource groups are desirable for employees, too:
- They help
employees meet people and establish meaningful connections with like-minded co-workers.
- They provide an opportunity
to learn about people who are different from them or topics they’d like to explore
in greater depth.
- They facilitate
mentorship and networking, both of which can lead to faster career advancement.
- They enable
employees to attain experience in a leadership role.
- They give
employees an outlet for volunteering in support of a cause and improving the community
benefits are especially important to younger generations: Millennials
and Generation Z.
workers – who will soon become the largest percentage of the workforce – are
the most diverse and inclusive generations yet.
they’re not just looking for a job to get paid and keep them busy between 9 to 5.
The idea of being socially responsible and bettering the world can appeal
strongly to them. Many Millennial and Gen Z job seekers look for opportunities
to do this through their work.
lesson: Companies should more heavily promote employee resource groups as part
of a competitive
perk package to attract talent.
Starting employee resource groups
formation of individual employee resource groups are initiated by your employees.
before they can do that, your company needs to first:
- Establish its
policy on employee resource groups
- Obtain approval of
the policy from executive leadership and agreement to sponsor individual
- Put a process in
place – including application forms – to guide employees seeking approval for
an employee resource group
policy sets the ground rules and parameters that employee resource groups will
- Which types of
employee resource groups you’ll allow
- Who can join
(spoiler alert: all employees)
- Whether employees
will be paid for this activity
- Your budget for
employee resource groups, along with an explanation for how those funds will be
allocated among the various groups
- How and where members
of employee resource groups can advertise to other employees (and who will pay
- What can cause
the disbandment of a group
executive leadership has approved, you’ll need to create the process by which
employees can apply to start groups.
application process could occur throughout the year, or open for a set period
of time annually.
someone to accept applications, as well as the person or team who will make the
ultimate decision. Make sure employees know where to submit applications and
a template form for employees helps reduce barriers and make the process more
efficient. It enables you to get the information you need and in the format you
prefer, and it’s less work for employees.
the application, require employees to provide certain information about their
proposed employee resource group:
- The purpose
- The mission, vision and goals
- How the group aligns with and supports the overall values and goals of the company
- The organizational structure (Who will lead the group, and what will their titles and responsibilities be?)
- The succession plan within the group (How long will people stay in leadership positions?)
this information is known at the application phase, you can also ask employees
- When and where
they plan to meet
- Which resources
they’ll need, such as conference rooms or an off-site location rental for
an employee resource group is official, you can help to promote it in various
paperwork or during the orientation process
- Employee handbook
- Any content that
discusses the company values and culture
- Company video
- Careers webpage
and other recruiting materials
resource group fair” at your office
- Employee intranet
- Annual report
What to watch out for
a good idea to consult with your legal team as you define your policy on
employee resource groups and work with active groups. That’s because there are
opportunities for your business to land into trouble if you’re not careful.
to keep in mind:
1. Specify which types of employee resource groups you’ll allow and won’t permit.
- Groups promoting
ideas that clash with your anti-harassment and discrimination policies – you
don’t want anyone advocating for diminishing the rights of others at your
- Groups that can
be polarizing and fail to serve a purpose in furthering your organizational mission
2. Employee resource groups must be inclusive. You can’t exclude anyone who wants to participate in a group from joining.
3. Membership in an employee resource group must be voluntary. No one can be compelled to join.
4. Be careful that you don’t violate employees’ rights.
You could run the risk of violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by having what amounts to an employer-sponsored union.
Employee rights. Employee resource groups don’t represent groups of employees for the purposes of negotiating or bargaining with employers. They’re not a union, and you should state that in your policy and application.
You should also explain that your company won’t receive proposals or recommendations from any employee resource group regarding terms and conditions of employment or any similar proposal that would come from a labor union. A group violating this rule is grounds for disbandment or cutting off funds.
And, you can’t retaliate against individual
employees. Under the NLRA, employees have the right to engage in “protected
concerted activity.” If an employee is part of a group that violates your
policy, this means you can’t personally punish that individual in the form of
reduced pay or termination, for example.
Employer-sponsored unions. The NLRA doesn’t allow these. To avoid the appearance of having employer-sponsored unions:
- Don’t let managers or executive sponsors directly control employee resource group meetings or events, or make decisions for the group.
- Permit only non-managerial employees to hold leadership positions in these groups.
5. Consider the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in addressing payment terms for employees who participate in employee resource groups.
Will members be paid to attend meetings or
perform work in the community?
Will members conduct activity outside work
hours and off premises, or will members conduct activity during work hours and
using office facilities?
Remember that voluntary activities don’t have
to be paid. Non-voluntary activities, such as participating in a focus group
for your company, must be paid.
6. Train your company’s leadership to understand employee resource groups and their purpose, as well as the company policy governing employee resource groups.
Managers need to be aware that their direct
reports may be participating in a group, which could impact their timeliness and attendance at some point, or cause them to be away from
their desks occasionally.
If managers aren’t in the loop, they may discipline
an employee unnecessarily, which could result in a discrimination claim.
Summing it all up
From improving diversity to strengthening employees’ bonds to their
workplace, employee resource groups hold a lot of appeal for employers and
employees alike. These groups can even be an effective part of your recruiting
toolbox when targeting younger workers.
Be sure to craft a careful, legally sound policy governing employee
resource groups, and have a process and application form ready to go for
employees who want to initiate a group.
more information on creating a workplace that enhances employee satisfaction,
download our free magazine: The Insperity
guide to employee benefits.