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Employee Resource Groups: Providing an Outlet for Sensitive Discussions

The U.S. has been faced with multiple major developments in recent days: the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover, and the implementation in Texas of a restrictive anti-abortion measureand the subsequent 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court to leave that law in place, at least for now.

Employees Need Outlets for Feelings About Critical Issues

For women in particular, these events can be stressful and troubling, leaving observers feeling anxious and powerless. The historic treatment of women by the Taliban is well known, and many American women are lamenting the plight of these women across the globe and what it may mean for women’s rights more broadly. At home in the U.S., the enactment of the Texas law – passed in May but only entering into effect on September 1 – is perhaps the greatest challenge to the legal framework around the right to choose since the landmark Roe v. Wade case was decided in 1973.

One of the most effective ways to deal with the stress and anxiety from major national and international events is just talking about them with family, friends, and colleagues. But employees may often feel uncomfortable or unable to discuss politically charged topics at work, and few topics are as politically charged as abortion rights.

The challenge is that full-time employees spend around half their waking lives at work, whether in-person or remote. This can leave a major gap in their ability to vent frustrations and discuss concerns with like-minded individuals.

A Role for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, can be a great vehicle for these discussions. Such groups are often tailored for distinct groups, such as women or people of color, and they’re voluntary and relatively insular. This means conversations and the viewpoints expressed within them aren’t broadcast to the rest of the company and shouldn’t create the kind of discomfort or conflict that the same discussions might have in a meeting or the breakroom.

ERGs are in place specifically for these kinds of tough conversations. The same holds true for issues facing African Americans, such as the killing of George Floyd and the broader discussions around systemic racism and police brutality.

While some might argue that the workplace is no place for such discussions, employers value ERGs for their ability to help make staff feel comfortable and included, and to reduce the chances that stress and anxiety will bleed over into employees’ professional lives in the form of diminished engagement and performance.

Between the COVID pandemic and troubling news events, many employees are stressed to a breaking point. ERGs are often an underutilized resource many employers offer to help staff cope with outside events, helping employees find a sense of community and inclusion in the workplace where they can share their feelings even on sensitive issues, while avoiding the effects of stress and anxiety on the broader organization.

Are you finding ERGs to be more important now than ever in your organization? How are you using ERGs to provide employees with an outlet to communicate about sensitive issues? What is your organization learning as a result of these interactions?

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