Do Not Trust Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

They’re no replacement for a union. In fact, they’re often created to distract from collective bargaining efforts.

Devon Price

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The top result for “diversity and inclusion” on Unsplash is this photo by Nathan Dumlao. By using a work-fueling stimulant as a vacuous stand-in for actual human diversity, it’s funnily apt here — but probably not in the way the creator intended.

As a public academic who writes about anti-productivity and neurodiversity, I’m often invited to speak at organizations’ Employee Resource Groups (ERGS). In the past year, I’ve given talks at everywhere from Indeed to Nike, from Salesforce to Reverb, and from The University of Michigan to Griffith Foods.

During talks like these, I describe the needs of neurodivergent and disabled workers, and share the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network’s resources on how a company can better accommodate them. I explain how corporate norms of overwork and micromanagement have their roots in white supremacy. I review the robust literature showing that the average worker can only be productive for about three to four hours per day, with any additional hours on the job yielding diminishing returns. And I point to the decades of data showing that flexible work hours, remote work options, and treating employees with autonomy and trust leads to better outcomes for everybody involved.

Usually, these talks are pretty well received by both employees and management — until the moment comes where I suggest that finding a healthy work-life balance cannot be an individual effort. We aren’t all burnt out because we’re unrepentant workaholics with bad boundaries and no sense of time management. And the struggles of Autistic & otherwise disabled employees can’t all be attributed to us “masking” our true needs either. We all do too much because we are forced to. And the only way that will change is if we come together as workers and agree to stop.

That’s usually the point in the talk where all momentum grinds to a halt and organizers start behaving awkwardly. Question and answer periods are unceremoniously ended early. Employees’ complaints about their company’s culture suddenly disappear from the Zoom meeting’s comment box. I’ve had event organizers laugh uncomfortably at my remarks, and tell me that employees at their company do not need a union, because they have their (employer-sponsored, boss-monitored) ERG.

And then recently, after delivering a workshop focused on workplace mental health to…

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Devon Price

He/Him or It/Its. Social Psychologist & Author of LAZINESS DOES NOT EXIST and UNMASKING AUTISM. Links to buy: https://linktr.ee/drdevonprice