Employee affinity groups may just be the most underrated element in your company’s employee engagement toolbox. Are you ready to change that? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Employee affinity groups can serve a multitude of purposes, and especially now during a time of such rapid and stressful change, they can help ensure that your efforts to support employees remain agile and responsive.
Employee affinity groups are collectives of colleagues organized around commonalities including interests, backgrounds, field, and demographics. Affinity groups can be focused on a range of topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (in this case they’re often called employee/business resource groups), social impact, career development, and wellness. Even if your company hasn’t formalized any official groups, there may be grassroots efforts that are active within your organization. If you’re interested in leveraging them to supercharge company culture and employee engagement this year, read on to learn our five top tips for maximizing the impact of employee affinity groups.
How affinity groups meet crucial needs and what that means for your business
Aristotle first noted that ‘humans are social animals,’ and the statement is no less true today than when it originated. Even among introverts, having positive social interactions and a reliable support system of relationships is critical for wellbeing. In fact, one study found that feeling lonely and socially isolated is as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes per day. This need translates to the workplace as well. The average person will spend 90,000 hours of their lives working; that’s a full third of their time on Earth. With nearly 4,000 days of heavy smoking – over a full decade – at stake, do your employees and your business a favor by taking steps to encourage productive connections between team members.
On that note, the evidence is clear that building strong relationships between your employees can be a boon to your bottom line. Studies have shown that workers who lack colleague friendships are significantly more likely to be disengaged and to wind up leaving the company. Another study found that 70% of employees believe that having friends at work is the single biggest contributor to a happy work life. More than half of the respondents also reported that they would decline a higher-paying job opportunity if it meant they wouldn’t get along with their colleagues, presenting a challenge to companies looking to attract and retain top talent. Poor colleague relationships and exclusion in general contribute to lower productivity and a negative company culture, both of which result in reduced business success. Luckily, employee affinity groups can counter all of this.
Top tips for ensuring your affinity groups drive positive business outcomes
At their worst, employee affinity groups exist as social organizations that may ramp up or down in activity based on who is leading them at any given time. We use the term ‘worst’ here very lightly, as even social groups can have significant positive impacts on employee morale and wellbeing. At their best however, affinity groups provide crucial support, especially for employees from underrepresented backgrounds, drive business outcomes, and enhance employer brands. The tips below will help you ensure your groups fall in the latter category, rather than being purely social.
- Listen to employees. In order for employee affinity groups to reach their full potential, employers must follow workers’ lead. Determining what groups will be offered through a top-down process without employee buy-in will hinder your program from the very start. When initiatives are launched at employees rather than with them, things wind up feeling forced and inauthentic. Consulting employees from day one on the other hand, ensures employee investment from the very beginning, enabling you to build successful programs grounded in a strong base of employee support and participation.
- Provide formal support. Once you’ve empowered your employees to determine what affinity groups should be created and who will run them, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Support doesn’t have to come in the form of a large amount of money, or even be monetary at all though; just ensure that your employees have the tools and autonomy to accomplish their objectives. Ideally, give each leader a budget and an executive sponsor, equip them with group management and marketing tools, and ensure every employee knows that active participation is both allowed and encouraged.
- Integrate them into business efforts. Employee affinity groups have helped companies move into new markets, launch new lines, and ensure that their products and services are inclusive for all desired customer segments. If you don’t give your groups a seat at the table, you’re missing out on a wealth of input and ingenuity. Ensure you keep your various affinity groups in mind when mapping out strategies, and don’t hesitate to consult them where relevant. This will also make them feel recognized and valued, leading to increased employee engagement and productivity.
- Champion their accomplishments. Building on the recognition piece mentioned in the previous bullet, don’t let your affinity groups go unappreciated. Not only does this demotivate group leaders and members, but it prevents you from reaping the full extent of the employer branding benefits these groups can confer. Advertise your groups on your website, share their work internally, and don’t forget to tell potential recruits about them. Give your groups the attention and acknowledgement they deserve, and you’ll be rewarded in kind.
- Connect them to a wider ecosystem. Leading employee affinity groups can be tiring. There’s member recruitment and retention, initiative planning and management, marketing and communications, and more to think about, and that’s all work that often goes uncompensated on top of an employee’s core job responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, there’s a high degree of burnout associated with running an affinity group. Accordingly, it can help to connect both leaders and members to internal and external resources to help them succeed without running themselves ragged. Provide access to internal tools that can make the job of member management, promotion, etc. easier, along with outside resources like the Global ERG Network to further support them.
Employee affinity groups are critical tools in your employee engagement, company culture, and diversity and inclusion arsenals; don’t underestimate their value. If you’d like to learn more or explore opportunities to better support or expand your affinity group program, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our all-in-one platform for supporting employee affinity groups is simple to implement, and offers a wealth of tools and resources to help you drive impact.