Report: Employer Resource Networks yield 510% ROI

2019 findings show support and coaching cultivate employee success and family stability.
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A new report shows companies that provide an Employer Resource Network (ERN) success coach at the workplace experience an average of 510% return on investment toward the goals of stabilizing households and growing businesses and vibrant communities.

The 2019 Employer Resource Network (ERN) Annual Report, released last month, includes program data from a sample of 20 ERNs in Michigan, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

The average workforce utilization rate was 16%, and ROI was calculated according to company investment and retention. The study is based on 15,573 service needs addressed through 10,222 employee requests. Over 6,100 employees and their families were served by ERNs last year, the report said.

Employer Resource Networks are private-public consortia with a purpose to improve workforce retention through employee support and training. Member employers, third-party success coaches and administrators participate in peer learning activities such as annual conferences and quarterly calls where they share lessons learned, resources utilized and new ideas. A customized monthly employee newsletter highlights success stories to inspire member employees and provides an additional platform for best practice sharing amongst success coaches.

ERN USA — a for-profit organization based in Grand Rapids that was founded in 2007 by James Vander Hulst and Angela Vander Hulst — partners with “lead organizations” to assist in new ERN startups.

ERN USA comprises a total of 28 ERNs from nine states with other ERNs in development. Area networks in West Michigan include five Lakeshore ERNs covering Muskegon, Ottawa, Allegan, Oceana and Mason counties; five Southwest Michigan ERNs covering Branch, Calhoun, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties; and a West Michigan ERN covering Grand Rapids/Kent County.

James Vander Hulst, president, CEO and chief disruptive officer at ERN USA, said ERNs provide employers an avenue to exercise social responsibility while also benefiting their business.

“Companies are realizing more and more that a supported workforce to eliminate barriers due to challenges at home and at work is beneficial to the bottom line,” Vander Hulst said. “With the benefits for employees, along with cost savings for companies and the government, it is a win-win situation for all.”

Key goals and components of ERNs are as follows:

  • Business engagement
  • Cross-sector collaboration among employers
  • Human services and educator partnerships
  • Workplace-based employee success coaching (case management)
  • Real-time referrals to community resources

Vander Hulst said the idea for ERN USA evolved out of a problem he was seeing while working as vice president of human resources for a local manufacturing company in 2000. He found that his HR team was spending about 15% of its time on non-core functions that could be addressed with coaching.

“At that time, we were looking at something similar to the current situation, where we had a tight labor market, and we had high turnover. We evaluated our employee benefits and found that between our health insurance, 401(k), tuition reimbursement and our employee assistance program (EAP), that many of our plant employees were not using (those benefits). We polled the employees to find out what would be a benefit to them, and what they were struggling with was basic work-life balance issues of transportation, child care, falling into the predatory lending traps of check cashing places and stuff like that,” he said.

“So, the ERN was an evolution of that to provide a success coach that could help the employees onsite, in-person, build a relationship of trust and be able to help employees with that car repair, because if that’s the reason that they’re turning over, because they can’t get to work, well, if we have a success coach who can help them fix that problem, then hopefully we can retain more employees.”

Vander Hulst said the ERNs are now seeing an average of 95% to 98% retention of employees who work with a success coach.

ERN success coaches provide a direct conduit to social services that Vander Hulst said allows fast relief for many issues that threaten employee attendance and job performance.

Program participants in the 2019 report identified some of their highest needs as financial literacy, housing, government agency navigation, health/insurance, utilities and auto repair.

Vander Hulst said these needs have been cited in previous annual reports, as well.

“Other top 10 needs that were consistent with the previous year’s data include coaching and counseling referrals,” Vander Hulst said. “Once immediate needs are addressed, we move forward with long-term goals such as home buying or skill building to further stabilize the individual or family.

“In addition to … turnover savings, the end goal is a focused and skilled workforce with a transformed culture of supportive employment.”

Jan Opalewski, former human resources manager for Fabri-Kal in Kalamazoo, said membership with an ERN greatly benefited her company last year.

“The Southwest Michigan ERN has been instrumental in our efforts to remove everyday barriers that our employees face (that) keep them from being productive,” she said. “Having a success coach onsite to address their issues has decreased turnover and improved attendance. This investment in our employees pays off every day.”

Based on the success seen in Michigan, Fabri-Kal is expanding its ERN involvement by championing a new chapter under development in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, as the company has a location in nearby Hazelton, Pennsylvania.

Vander Hulst said a few Kent County organizations that participate in ERNs include Lacks Industries, Holland Home, Ranir and Aspen Surgical.

The 2019 annual ERN report showed $494,297 in emergency loans were distributed to ERN employees by financial institution partners and $257,034 was generated in savings. Employees were able to avoid the high interest rates of predatory lending and were encouraged to put savings into an emergency fund to increase household stability.

Vander Hulst said 2020’s report will show increased need, given the global pandemic. The West Michigan ERN alone has seen about triple the demand for success coach services due to the difficulty of accessing federal unemployment benefits for those affected by COVID-19. And the ERNs have had to pivot to remote coaching rather than onsite during this time.

“With current pandemic challenges, success coaching is more important than ever and will continue into next year as we navigate recovery,” he said.

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