Some call them Wellbeing Guardians, others Wellbeing Ambassadors, Allies, Champions, Peers or even Culture Vultures. Whatever their label, conversations that I’ve been having with employers in the UK suggest growing interest in the potential power of employee resource groups (ERGs) that support mental health and wellbeing.
According to US based non-profit training and strategic advice provider Mind Share Partners, as companies continue to weather the Covid-19 pandemic, those who have integrated effective mental health ERGs into a broader mental health strategy, will see higher engagement, increased productivity and less instances of burnout.
For many, ERGs have proven vital throughout the pandemic. Feedback has provided insights into the challenges being faced by colleagues in different parts of the business. This has meant that plans and communications could be adapted swiftly.
In the UK, examples of employers that are running successful ERGs that support wellbeing initiatives include: PwC, Pladis, 3M, MediaCom, Molson Coors, Secret Escapes and Farfetch. In the US, examples include: Best Buy, Pinterest and Verizon Media.
In their recent article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Mind Share Partners outline in detail the steps that employers can take to create impactful mental health ERGs.
Here, are pointers to keep in mind, including suggestions from: Laura Pearce, HR Business Partner at Secret Escapes; Tina Samson, Reward Program Director EMEA & APAC, Molson Coors Beverage Company and Alison Pay, Managing Director, Mental Health at Work.
- Getting started
To reach those who might not be willing to join a group for fear of stigma, consider creating an ERG that covers wellbeing as well as mental health.
If the group is being created to formally support the organisation’s wellbeing initiatives, first provide a definition of wellbeing. Or work on this with the group as a first step. This helps to ensure that you are not just focusing on one thing, or missing elements that may be important to the organisation.
People have day jobs and want to be involved in different ways at different times. It’s important to facilitate this so that no-one feels excluded. Depending on how proactive members of the ERG will need to be in supporting workplace wellbeing initiatives, it can make sense to ask line managers for buy-in to the time commitment required.
At Molson Coors, their Wellbeing Champions are given an extra day’s holiday to recognise that they are doing this in addition to their main job.
- Find your allies across the organisation
Your company may already have an established process for launching an ERG. If it does, try to find other employees who recognise the importance of mental health and wellbeing. When possible, find a Board level sponsor for the group.
In their article, Mind Share Partners point out that it’s important to get your legal and HR teams onboard early in the process.
If your company doesn’t have established ERGs, there will be other ways you can gain support. For instance, you could hold an informal virtual coffee club. Or if your organisation uses Slack (or another internal communications tool), you could use that to gauge interest.
Laura Pearce suggests that if you can clearly define and ‘advertise’ the group, it should be easy to get members.
- Create a safe space with clear boundaries
ERGs are great forums for reducing stigma by creating a forum for storytelling. However, Mind Share Partners caution that it is wise to give employees guidance on ways to engage by setting “communication ground rules”. There is no one set way to do this right. The key is to get input from your members and test out ideas that work for everyone.
Some may wish to make the meetings confidential, or to build a Peer Network to facilitate private, peer-to-peer conversations around mental health. Others may choose to be more public with shared experiences, virtual workshops or meetings.
If HR provides the framework, allows group members to come up with suggestions, but then supports them to make these happen, Laura explains that you tend to see more progress. Getting the group involved in high-profile initiatives helps to spread the word. To maintain momentum, it can also be helpful to remind members about the positive impact the group is having on the business.
Alison Pay cautions that if the ERG has been created to support the employer’s wellbeing initiatives, that it’s important that members of the group should reflect the seniority, gender and location of the organisation’s population. She also advises that members of these type of mental health and wellbeing groups have formal training, not just in understanding mental health, but also in the skills required to have a conversation about mental health and wellbeing – including boundaries.
- Meet diverse needs
In their article, Mind Share Partners point out that those that identify as LGBTQ+ are three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition. Mental health and wellbeing ERGs are well-positioned to ensure the needs of identity-based groups are being met as they can facilitate nuanced conversations about community-specific experiences.
- Back your ERG with a budget
ERGs are great for building a community, raising awareness and driving initiatives. However, to be sustainable they need to be supported from the top-down. Ideally the CEO, or another Board level executive should show their support by speaking out about the importance of mental health and wellbeing to the organisation. Even better if they can share their own experiences.
Alison reminds us that ERGs alone don’t drive the cultural change needed in organisations around mental health.
Leaders need to back this up by integrating mental health into company priorities, as well as making sufficient budget available to resource ERGs and other mental health and wellbeing initiatives. According to Mind Share Partners, companies that pursue organisation-wide culture efforts can expect a 6:1 ROI.
Laura believes that being part of a wellbeing ERG can give people a huge sense of achievement and pride, especially if you really showcase their work and get senior level endorsement. The groups also enable wellbeing leaders to draw on diverse skills and create greater engagement with wellbeing initiatives, which makes it easier to hit the mark with what is on offer.
If you have other examples of ways in which employee resource groups are helping to support mental health and wellbeing in your organisation, I’d love to hear about them. Please message me at [email protected]
You can hear more about how leading employers are supporting workplace mental health and wellbeing at all of our upcoming global digital events. This includes Workplace Wellbeing by Design, taking place from 14-18 September, MAD World Summit, taking place 8 October; Make a Difference Summit US in Association with Mind Share Partners on 15 October and Make a Difference Summit Asia on 11 November, 2020. Pick and choose the content most relevant to you or attend all of the digital events with our Global Pass
About the author:
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times