Businesses across industries are grappling with a need for more engagement in the workplace.
There are many reasons for this. Our jobs take up a large portion of our day. Yet, with the rise of remote work, people spend less time socializing with their colleagues at work. A Gallup survey found that employees who had a best friend at work were seven times more likely to be engaged at their job. While remote work offers many positives to both employees and employers, the lack of time spent in person with other people definitely contributes to a growing sense of loneliness among workers.
Another reason is that a lot of people retired from the workforce in the wake of the pandemic, and younger people make up a larger proportion of most workplaces. Younger generations are more acutely aware of society’s problems and contributes positively to them. They need to feel like their work is meaningful and are willing to switch jobs in their pursuit of purpose. According to McKinsey & Company’s Great Attrition survey conducted in 2021, 51% of employees had left their job in the past six months because they lacked a sense of belonging at their workplace. In light of more diverse and younger workers, organizations need to adapt their structures and cultures in order to attract and retain top talent.
Organizations have tried various strategies and perks to boost employee engagement, with limited impact on long-term retention and performance. Many have invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs such as diversity training. However, despite spending a collective $8 billion per year, businesses are increasingly realizing that they need to go beyond simple DEI and focus on fostering a sense of belonging at the workplace.
One of the emerging social impact trends of 2023 is more democracy at the workplace, and working with employees to create a more inclusive and robust business. A great way of doing so is by encouraging employees to participate in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), also called affinity groups.
What are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)?
ERGs (or affinity groups) are voluntary workplace networks for employees with shared characteristics, special interests, or life experiences. These groups are typically employee-led, which allows employees from different teams, offices, and even countries to come together to connect with like-minded colleagues.
ERGs help increase belonging in organizations because they:
- Act as safe spaces where employees can connect and celebrate shared identities and interests, and act as supports for each other’s authentic selves;
- Form connections with colleagues throughout their organization and grow their careers through mentorship and development programs;
- Allow employees to directly impact their organization’s diversity and culture and feel more invested in their business outcomes;
- Provide opportunities for employees to educate others about issues their communities face and how they can help elevate those issues.
ERGs are a great way for companies to hear and learn from their employees and identify systemic issues within the organization. Due to the community and support aspects of ERGs, companies with ERGs report higher employee engagement and overall happiness. ERGs create a sense of belonging, leading to higher retention rates and more engaged employees. They also help engage and educate employees at all levels of the organization, creating connections and breaking down hierarchical power structures.
Allyship can go a long way toward building belonging. An ally is someone who isn’t a member of a particular underrepresented group but serves as a supporter and advocate. Diversity champions at your organization should act as allies and foster a sense of belonging and self-worth among junior or younger employees. Engaging with ERGs at your workplace is a good way to ensure you make employees feel heard.
How does volunteering foster belonging?
A 24-month study in participating countries across Europe investigated the impact of volunteering on the empowerment and inclusion of young volunteers. The study found that volunteering affected the intercultural understanding of volunteers and positively changed their way of perceiving differences.
The study highlighted the importance of volunteering settings that foster ‘bridging social capital’. Such volunteering broadens social networks and facilitates new relations, which tend to last over time. Volunteering helps foster the acquisition of various skills, especially communication skills.
The volunteers’ learning processes improved through social interactions during volunteering. The volunteers felt more empowered and became more attentive to their weaknesses and strengths. These dynamics allowed young volunteers to better access the community where they live, contributing to a renewed sense of belonging.
Give your employees a voice and choice
ERGs are voluntary groups and require a lot of work by participants, such as finding executive sponsors, setting goals, agreeing to the group’s mission/vision, managing the budget, drafting communications, building internal and external web pages, planning events, crafting social media campaigns, and determining key performance indicators. Your organization should support employees in creating ERGs, especially because they’re not getting paid for the time they spend on these groups. By encouraging ERGs, you foster a culture of volunteerism in your organization.
Employee volunteering is an effective way to unite and connect employees and provide a strong employee experience. Volunteering together strengthens the community within teams and companies, and strengthens ties to the communities where we live and work. The power of doing good increases happiness and unites employees regardless of if they work at home, in the office, or in a hybrid arrangement.
As employees want greater involvement in how their companies make an impact, you should be thinking more deeply about how to bring them into the process in a way that best captures their voices. By employing a bottom-up approach that leverages ERGs, you give your employees a voice in how they volunteer and democratize your volunteering program. You should set clear guidelines, parameters, and processes in place that help you align all your social impact efforts behind your company’s business strategy.
By nurturing employee resource groups, you can find the right balance between your company’s strategy and the voice of your employees - who are the ones actually serving in the community - and amplify your social and business impact.