Learning by Doing: How and Why Justworks Compensates our ERG Leads

Posted July 23, 2020 by Michael Baptiste in Justworks Love
ERG Leads have an outsized impact on our company's work culture. As our program has evolved, we decided to better reward and recognize them for their contributions.

Not that long ago, Justworks only had about 200 total employees. It was around this time, in 2017, that we first introduced Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as part of our ongoing efforts toward making our work culture more diverse and inclusive.

Naturally, like Justworks as a whole, our ERG program has expanded and evolved over the years. What has remained consistent from the outset, however, is that ERGs are a vital part of the fabric that makes Justworks a great place to work. They give our employees—now over 550 of them—more ways to connect with their peers, learn about and celebrate our differences, and feel supported and included.

Recognizing our ERG Leads

What tends to get lost in the conversation about ERGs as groups are the individuals that lead them. Our ERG Leads have an outsize impact on our workplace culture. Outside of the food, fun, and fellowship, these individuals are responsible for leading groups of up to 50 employees (on average for an ERG at Justworks) in a variety of activities and do so in a volunteer capacity.

At any company, it takes a special kind of person to take on additional responsibilities and accountabilities—often for a whole demographic group—without consistent formal recognition and/or rewards. Of course, typically, ERG Leads don’t seek out this role to get rewarded, nor do they expect anything extra for doing it. However, given the nature of what ERG leads typically do, and the positive impact of their work, one has to wonder why formally rewarding ERG leads for their contributions is not an automatic consideration for most businesses.

At the end of the day, we see this as an investment in the future leaders of our work culture—and our company.

Without our ERG Leads, there would be no ERGs. It’s as simple as that. But without them, Justworks also wouldn’t be the same company it is today—or tomorrow for that matter. These are employees who have stepped up to take on added responsibilities and duties that directly impact our company’s success. They support our ability to recruit and retain talented people, among other things, and help all our employees to feel connected, valued, respected, and appreciated. It is important that as a business we support our ERG efforts and initiatives around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). But it is also important that we support our ERG leads as individuals. DEI is everyone’s job—but these people truly embody this mentality.

Further, ERG leads often have high potential as future leaders within the organization at large. At Justworks, they are typically already high performers in their day jobs, have built credibility across the company, can lead with a strategic mindset, and have a natural ability to develop others and build effective teams. In most cases, ERG Leads have the opportunity to be in a highly visible leadership role that can directly impact company objectives.

But again, their efforts can sometimes go unappreciated relative to the true value they bring to the table. This is why, for starters, ERG Leads' efforts must be consistently supported by company leadership—so that all employees know the importance of how DEI efforts tie back to the company’s overall strategy (and success). But true support of ERGs also means that leadership should continually reassess what’s “normal” and look to do more.

Why We Started Compensating ERG Leads

As a result of reassessing our ERG Leads’ efforts, it became glaringly obvious that we needed to do a better job of rewarding and recognizing the many contributions they make above and beyond their regular jobs at Justworks. The feedback we got from our ERG Leads was also consistent around being overworked and underappreciated. So, as with any problem we face in business, we set out to learn by doing something different.

The idea of compensating our ERG Leads had actually been in the works for about six months prior to our Black Lives Matter commitments. Candidly, the hesitation around moving forward was that this was not a “best practice” at most companies, and we wanted to be thoughtful about how we further assessed and approached the idea this year. It was the BLM movement, however, and the internal discussions around it that we were having as a company in June, that gave us both the courage and a real opportunity to try this and see how it goes. Of course, I have to give credit to all our ERG Leads—for continuously pushing this idea to the forefront as a priority, as well as leading the charge around Justworks’ broader BLM commitments.

ERG-related contributions to Justworks will be evaluated and included in each ERG Lead’s overall annual performance review and factored into things like compensation and promotion potential.

From there, in June, our goal was to create a rewards/recognition package that would not only financially reward ERG Leads, but show our real appreciation and commitment to investing in them. Simply put, the rewards package idea was a way to say “Thank You” for all that these individuals do for the company. We also wanted to ensure that the rewards package allowed ERG Leads to have more visibility—both internally and externally—as well as access to professional development, opportunities to expand their leadership skills, and formal time and space to network and build community relationships with ERG Leads at other companies.

What Does Our ERG Rewards Package Look Like?

Overall, Justworks’ ERG Lead rewards package includes cash compensation, additional stock options, budget for external participation in ERG conferences, access to management coaching, and formal mentorship—if interested. This version of the rewards package will be a pilot effort for the first year, and we will reassess it and make adjustments as needed—to improve our approach to rewarding ERG leads for their continued contributions moving forward.

Just as important, our ERG Lead rewards methodology also takes into account that going above and beyond to help us build a more diverse and inclusive culture should not mean having to fall behind in your other responsibilities—or feel like you have a “second job” at Justworks.

To address this, we formally recognized that ERG Leads spend a portion of their time on added responsibilities and duties that directly impact the company in positive ways. This means that ERG-related contributions to Justworks will be evaluated and included in each ERG Lead’s overall annual performance review and factored into things like compensation and promotion potential. In addition to their regularly scheduled monthly check-in meetings, ERG Leads and the Director of DEI will have quarterly conversations in regard to their performance.

This is key. The formal notion that our ERG Leads' responsibilities are just as important as the duties of their day job ensures that these employees are not put at a disadvantage, during performance reviews or otherwise, for spending time on pushing our work culture forward.

Designing an ERG Lead Comp Structure

In thinking about the ERG Comp Structure itself, we wanted to make sure that the ERG Leads were fairly compensated for the additional time and effort they spend in this role. On average, we determined that an ERG Lead can spend 10% to 20% of their time on ERG-related responsibilities in addition to doing their regular job at Justworks. The goal from a compensation standpoint, therefore, was to support as well as reward them for that real work and time allotted to their role as an ERG Lead effectively.

Without our ERG Leads, there would be no ERGs. It’s as simple as that.

Our hope is that this will alleviate some of the natural stress and frustration of doing great work and not getting the proper recognition for it—recognition that should otherwise come in any legitimate business context. It’s a win-win. When ERG Leads feel supported, they have 14% higher satisfaction, 10% higher willingness to go above and beyond, 30% higher optimism about their career, and 23% higher satisfaction with career progression.

Every company’s approach will be unique, but here are a few key things we considered at Justworks when putting together a comp structure for our ERG Leads:

  • ERG Leads are a vital part of our culture. They take on added responsibilities and duties that directly impact the company and our ability to recruit and retain talented people, among other things contributing to Justworks' overall success.
  • All our employees feel more connected, valued, respected, and appreciated based on the work of the ERG Leads (and our ERGs themselves). It's important that we support, recognize, and reward these individuals. They are the pulse of Justworks and push our work culture forward.
  • In order to make true progress, we can’t think of DEI as “separate” — it has to be at the core of how we set objectives and operate our business.
  • As we have woven DEI into our goals, compensating ERGs for the additional work they do for the company is only fair.
  • The current package will be in effect for a full year, starting June 1, 2020, after which we plan to review how it is working and adjust. Moving forward, our goal is to recognize and reward our ERG Leads for going above and beyond.

We set out to learn by doing something different. Our first attempt to properly reward and recognize our ERG Leads will not be perfect—that we know. But we will review and fine-tune our approach, and we will be transparent about it with them and with all employees at Justworks. At the end of the day, we see this as an investment in the future leaders of our work culture—and our company. ERG Leads are our “Culture Carriers” and in order for them to be successful in what they do, we want and need to support them accordingly.

At Justworks, we aspire to lead by example for the thousands of small businesses who use our platform. Beyond wanting to do the right thing for our own employees, we are hopeful that other companies in America will choose to follow us into uncharted territory by compensating their ERG leads for the important additional work they do every day.