Skip to Main Content
Filter By +
Topic +

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Definitions and How They Boost Business

6 Minutes to Read

Topics covered


    An employee resource group (ERG) is an internal, worker-led program that a business formally recognizes and supports. ERGs have the power to boost business, improve employee well-being and champion collaboration across organizations. Read how ERGs form and why companies should prioritize these valuable initiatives.

    We all know that organizations rely on their employees to perform at a high level. The key to successfully doing that is creating a workplace where employees trust each other and can do their best work.

    Think of it in the context of psychological safety. Employees who feel comfortable being open, honest and authentic can also contribute at a high level. And they help their organizations accomplish their goals.

    One initiative that can help build that foundation of psychological safety and trust is employee resource groups (ERGs).

    What is an ERG?

    According to research and consulting firm Gartner, an ERG is a voluntary, employee-led program that an organization formally recognizes and supports. ERGs are sometimes referred to as affinity groups or network groups, too. ERGs are generally organized based on a:

    • common interest
    • identity
    • background

    These groups provide employees with a place to network and create a more inclusive workplace.

    ERGs aren’t new. They’ve been around since the 1960s when Black employees at Xerox came together as a group to discuss race in the workplace. Today, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs.

    What types of employee resource groups exist?

    Really, organizations can support a variety of groups that prioritize employee interest. Common examples include:

    • Black
    • LBGTQ+
    • Pan-Asian
    • Hispanic/Latino
    • Indigenous Americans
    • cancer survivors and support
    • caregivers
    • parents
    • people with disabilities
    • veterans
    • women
    • and more

    No matter what an ERG’s focus is, it should always create a safe, comfortable place where people can discuss not just what’s important to them at work, but their personal lives, too.

    And speaking of women’s ERGs, in honor of International Women’s Day, Paycom hosted a podcast with me and Tiffany Gamblin, Paycom’s director of HR business services, to discuss ERGs and specifically the women’s ERG at Paycom.

    How to start an ERG

    Introducing an ERG doesn’t have to be cumbersome. A good starting point could be to pitch the idea to HR or the organization’s chief diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) officer. Then find an executive sponsor who will champion the activity with the senior leadership team and get the ERG the resources it needs.

    If you’re trying to start an ERG, be prepared to have a high-level plan for the group you’d like to create, along with the group’s goal. Also, be prepared to talk about logistics, like how often the group should meet and who will act as a point person (for requests, general communication, etc.).

    While it might be tempting to start several groups at the same time, consider starting with one — maybe two — and then grow. Get feedback from existing groups so you have a road map for implementing future ERGs.

    How can someone join an employee resource group?

    Before joining an ERG, an employee should consider their goals. Is it to network with peers? Learn how to support a community? Find a mentor? Maybe all of the above?

    Then, find out what ERGs are available in the organization. They should be visible so employees can see what’s available and when meetings take place. Once someone identifies an ERG, they should have the option to attend as a guest and see if they connect with the group.

    If a good connection exists, the employee should ask the point person for the ERG how to formally join the group. It’s possible the ERG might ask for some information about the person’s role in the company and what they would like to accomplish. Workers who want to join should also keep any rules the ERG maintains in mind.

    Being part of an ERG is a commitment that should be respected by participants. During our podcast, Tiffany mentioned that at Paycom, employees often belong to more than one ERG.

    “With our ERGs … we can make sure that our employees have opportunities to come to together to collaborate on problems and solutions,” she said. “And our women’s ERG is also the largest ERG in the company, and it has the most intersectionality, which means [its] members are participating in at least one other ERG.”

    How do ERGs support employees?

    First and foremost, an ERG exists to help support the other members of the group. That being said, organizations often use the expertise found in the ERG. Here are a few ways how.

    Talent management

    ERGs can offer guidance to an HR team about talent management, recruiting strategies and sometimes even employee benefits. For example, HR teams might seek guidance from the veteran’s ERG about ways to promote open positions to people preparing to exit military service.

    Leadership development

    ERGs offer individuals opportunities to discuss career goals and sometimes the challenges that go along with them. For example, a new manager may find participation in a young professionals ERG helpful. Or a women’s ERG might be a place for someone to find a mentor.

    Community engagement

    An increasing number of organizations are making community involvement a visible part of their brand. It not only helps with customer engagement but can also support employment branding. ERG members might find it exciting and rewarding to share their expertise with the community.

    Product and service development

    Organizations are always researching new business opportunities. ERG members could be a valuable source for new ideas. They can also be a helpful sounding board when refining new concepts.

    What’s the company’s role in supporting ERGs?

    While employees play a huge role in forming and maintaining ERGs, don’t forget about how organizations have a responsibility in their success.

    Leadership support

    It starts here. Leadership at every level need to support forming and maintaining ERGs. Groups might ask senior leaders to come to meetings. These invites are great opportunities for dialogue and to gather feedback.

    Training and resources

    For ERGs to be successful, employees will need time (and possibly a small budget) to have meetings. It’s possible that new groups might benefit from some training on topics like:

    • networking
    • communication
    • scheduling
    • time management
    • and more

    Marketing and promotions

    ERGs should be promoted both internally (to employees) and externally (to candidates). Companies should share information about ERGS regularly and in a way that’s accessible to every employee.

    Rewards and recognition

    There will be people in the ERG who take on additional responsibilities to start and keep the group going. Organizations should think about how to recognize and reward these behaviors.

    How ERGs make workplaces stronger

    Introducing ERGs should be well thought out. You need to build a plan, get leadership support and budget, and create workplace buy-in. There’s also one more thing to include in the organization’s ERG plan: monitoring and evaluation. This should take place on two levels:

    • Give ERG participants an opportunity to provide feedback. They might have ideas that will make creating and maintaining groups easier.
    • Get feedback from leadership. The organization should be able to see results in terms of better workplace engagement scores and retention.

    The organization can use this information to propose revisions that will make ERGs even stronger.

    After all, employee resource groups help build healthier workplace cultures. And we know that having a strong organizational culture leads to overall business success.

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn other strategies to support employee well-being, engagement, development and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.