How ERGs Can Support Employee Health and Wellness

a group of young adults clapping

ERGs — employee resource groups — bring like-minded people together based on common backgrounds and goals.

ERGs span the entire spectrum of employee interests and include groups based on race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, military experience, age, career stage, and other shared characteristics.

Depending on the company, these groups are also known as business resource groups (BRGs) or affinity groups. A large organization may have both ERGs and BRGs, with the latter focused on business growth and development rather than personal attributes.

Belonging through shared experiences

The first affinity group was created in the 1960s to focus on race-based issues. Today, the majority (90%) of Fortune 500 companies support ERGs and BRGs as a way to retain and develop an increasingly diverse workforce.

Belonging is at the crux of every successful ERG. Employees join to:

  • Find camaraderie
  • Learn from others
  • Share knowledge and advice
  • Build their professional skills
  • Address workplace challenges
  • Promote cultural awareness
  • Engage with specific interests
  • Volunteer in the community

Some employees will connect with more than one group. For example, an ambitious professional with two small children might join groups for emerging leaders and working moms. She could also choose to join a group that represents her ethnicity. 

On the other end of the work journey, a senior-level leader might find affinity with a group of soon-to-be retirees or employees with aging parents. Available groups should reflect the employee population and have the backing of sponsors in Human Resources (HR) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Health and wellness as a common thread

Worry, stress, and poor life/work balance are experiences shared across employee groups, regardless of their unique identifying characteristics. Other health and wellness experiences are more targeted and delineated across racial and ethnic groups.

Population health data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows disparity in the delivery of health care services, as well as in the prevalence of disease among key demographics. Consider these statistics:

  • 62% of Hispanic people in the U.S. did not receive a flu vaccine in 2021-2022.
  • 34% of Hispanic people do not have a regular doctor and are likely to go without care.
  • Black babies are twice as likely as white babies to die during infancy.
  • Black (43%) and Hispanic (37%) people are more likely to be obese.
  • Diabetes rates are highest among Black (16%) and Hispanic (12%) people.
  • Black people with diabetes are twice as likely to die from the condition than white people.
  • White people have the highest reported incidence (36%) of mental illness and substance abuse.

Sharing this kind of data in an ERG setting could help diverse employees better understand their health risks, and the risks facing their loved ones.

ERGs can improve health equity

ERGs can work together or independently to share important health information with their members and employees at large. Opportunities include:

  • Inviting health/nutritional speakers to present at ERG meetings.
  • Hosting a multi-ERG health fair, with diagnostic screenings available.
  • Supporting ERG-specific wellness challenges (for example, weight loss or smoking cessation).
  • Healthy food/recipe sharing during heritage months.
  • Monthly observances consistent with ERG member health risks, such as National. Nutrition Month, National Minority Health Month, and National Diabetes Month.

These groups also provide a venue for communicating employee health benefits — an increasingly important differentiator in today’s diverse workplace. A 2021 McKinsey study showed that more than 30% of Black, Hispanic/Latino, LGBTQ+, and GenZ employees have considered switching employers due to negative health benefit experiences.

ERGs can help members navigate their health insurance coverage and improve their health literacy. Groups can:

  • Arrange benefit open enrollment information sessions with HR representatives.
  • Explore special programs and discounts offered by the company health plan.
  • Share success stories of ERG members who used their benefits to make positive health and lifestyle changes.
  • Guide members on how to talk with health providers, especially if there is a language barrier.

Groups may also assist with nonmedical needs that impact wellness — such as food insecurity, economic challenges, unsafe living conditions, domestic violence, and other social determinants of health (SDOH).

While employee health is not typically the realm of ERGs, it is an essential part of the workplace experience. The differences in that experience deserve to be understood, so that all people can get the most from their benefits and their relationships with each other.

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