How small businesses can implement ERGs on a smaller scale

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, foster a sense of community and help with employee retention, research shows. But while 90% of Fortune 500 companies offer ERGs, these affinity groups may feel out of reach to a company with a smaller headcount. 

Luckily, ERGs aren’t an all-or-nothing game, and putting ERGs in place can help small businesses stay competitive and keep up with current trends. 

Here’s how to make it work for your organization.

Gauge interest

An ERG is only as strong as its members, so you’ll need to clarify whether your employees want ERGs and what type of groups they’d be interested in joining. Some common types of ERGs include groups for women, people with disabilities, sexual orientation minorities, working parents or a cultural or ethnic group, among other things.

“What would they want it to look like?” says Laura MacLeod, an HR expert and consultant with From The Inside Out Project, an employee-morale company. “Do they care about this stuff? Who would be interested? You can’t put something in place and then say, ‘Please come to this XYZ thing’ if nobody cares.” 

Focus on one essential need

ERGs can educate, advocate and create community, but it’s not necessary to do everything all at once. 

“It’s important to evaluate the company’s needs and set very specific goals,” says Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of insurance agency Choice Mutual. “Take the time to determine exactly how the ERG will fit into the company and why it’s needed. For example, do you want to focus on recruitment strategies and discover more creative solutions to reach a more diverse pool of candidates?”

Keep it small

There’s no need to press everyone at the company to participate, particularly as your ERG finds its legs and purpose. A few dedicated members can determine the motivation and goals of the group and figure out what they’ll need in order to achieve what they want. 

If people and budgets are an issue, consider joining forces with another organization. “A small business could partner with a local chapter of a national organization to provide resources and support for its ERG,” says Rahul Vij, CEO of SEO agency WebSpero Solutions. 

Harness technology

Particularly now, it’s possible to use tech tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to organize and communicate. Slack channels for various ERG groups, for instance, gives team members some online space. 

“Team members can join the channel to push each other to reach their professional and personal goals,” says Dmytro Sokhach, founder of link building company Admix Global. 

Virtual tools are also the key to ERG success if workers aren’t all in the same office. “They are especially useful for small businesses with remote or geographically dispersed employees because they allow for regular communication and collaboration regardless of location,” says Adrienne Couch, human resources analyst with business site LLC.Services. 

Keep it simple

ERGs can do all kinds of useful things — bring in speakers, organize workshops, etc. But that can feel overwhelming if you’re also trying to juggle all the responsibilities of your small business.

“In my opinion, group lunches are one of the simplest and most common team-building exercises,” says Tia Campbell, director of marketing at Practice Reasoning Tests. “Since dining is a routine part of the day, it is simpler for many employees who cannot spare extra time to meet off the clock. Members of the group can cook together, dine out or order in.” 

Engage senior leadership

Company management buy-in is crucial to the success of your ERGs, since they’ll need to provide budget, time and help shepherding any changes submitted by an ERG into place. 

“Another reason senior leadership is so critical to the success of an ERG is because often, the employees serving on an  ERG are doing so voluntarily while they must still complete their job requirements,” says Melanie Miller, an inclusion strategist in Atlanta. “Senior leader support is helpful when mid-level and front line leaders won’t let their employees leave for ERG meetings and events.” 

Keep the endgame in mind

While creating an ERG as a small firm may not be the easiest or smoothest task — and you may wonder if it’s worth your time — keep in mind that ERGs benefit employees and their companies in lots of ways.

“Our employees reported feeling a stronger sense of belonging and motivation to

contribute to the success of our business,” says Sam Underwood, an ecommerce SEO consultant. “In fact, we saw a 20% increase in employee satisfaction just six months after launching the ERG program. By investing in our employees’ well-being, we are also investing in the long-term success of our company.”