Whether we own a business, work remotely, make a living by freelancing or we are employed at an office one thing is clear: having the space to address mental health at work is an essential component of a high-quality work culture and an indispensable part of overall well-being. This is especially true for professionals who face social and structural pressures due to their gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation.According to Mercer Marsh Benefits 2021 Health on Demand Report, 30% of LGBTQ+ employees expressed having higher levels of stress compared to their colleagues. Additionally, the report put forward that LGBTQ+ employees stated to have higher rates of poor health than their counterparts who do not identify as LGBTQ+.
What are mental health challenges faced by LGBTQ+ professionals at work?
In terms of mental health, some of the most common sources of challenges faced by LGBTQ+ professionals at work are:
- Harassment and discrimination
- Healthcare disparities
- Being out at work
- Difficulties in work-life balance
Here you will find a list of suggestions hoping that both independent professionals, as well as business owners, can follow in order to support their LGBTQ+ colleagues and employees in overcoming some of mental health problems.
Harassment and discrimination
The results of newly published CIPD report covering the LGBTQ+ work life reveal some disturbing experiences. According to the report, LGBTQ+ professionals are more likely to be exposed to conflict and various forms of abuse at work compared to their colleagues who do not identify as LGBTQ+.The study expresses that more than 40% of LGBTQ+ employees and trans employees came across some sort of conflict and workplace harassment in the last year. Their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts were reported to be 10% less in contact with such behaviors.Needless to say, the percentage of LGBTQ+ and trans employees who reported feeling unsafe at work was also higher than those who do not identify as LGBTQ+. The percentage of LGBTQ+ employees reporting feeling unsafe at work was 20% while the percentage of heterosexual and cisgender colleagues reporting feeling unsafe at work was only 10%.
One way of supporting mental health at work and emphasizing the importance of health and wellness in the workplace is to make sure that LGBTQ+ professionals have adequate access to healthcare. Inclusivity and diversity are not concepts to be put into practice merely in everyday social practices but also in overcoming healthcare disparities.McKinsey’s recent survey of large US employers concluded that employees and freelancers belonging to Black, Latino, Asian and LGBTQ+ communities are more disadvantaged in accessing and receiving the healthcare they are in need of.In addition, compared to the rest of the professionals, they are also more likely to evaluate changing employers for motivations connected to healthcare packages and benefits. Healthcare disparities sometimes mean that LGBTQ+ employees need to take more time off in order to meet their healthcare needs compared to their colleagues.
Being out at work
Being or not being out at work is a critical subject of debate for LGBTQ+ professionals. While some people support this practice of visibility and consider it an important aspect of their day-to-day life, others hesitate to come out at work for concerns of safety.It is true that practices of diversity and inclusion change from one workplace to the other. In contexts where coming out causes micro or macro aggressions, tension and discrimination the state of mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals can be negatively affected. LinkedIn’s ‘Being out @ Work’ survey underlines that “three-quarters (75%) of LGBTQ+ respondents said it’s important that they work at a company where they feel comfortable expressing their identity, and two-thirds (65%) said they would leave their current job if they felt they could not do so.”Since coming out at work is a personal choice that may bring advantages or disadvantages depending on various things such as the workplace, colleagues and the business culture, the impacts of coming out at work on individuals’ mental health should be assessed wisely.
Difficulties in work-life balance
Whether we own a solo business or work as a part of a team, the amount of time we work has a direct impact on our work-life balance. LGBTQ+ professionals often face considerable amounts of stress trying to separate their professional life and personal life.Trying to create a line between the professional and the private aspects of their lives increases the amount of stress LGBTQ+ professionals have to endure. Such prolonged stress, in return, has a constant effect on the mental health and well-being of individuals.Many LGBTQ+ professionals have stated that they struggled to maintain a work-life balance mostly because of having to keep their family life and personal attachments to themselves. The number one concern of most of LGBTQ+ professionals in this regard is thought to be issues at the workplace related to the traditional understanding of what a family is.
How can organizations and leaders support LGBTQ+ mental health at work?
Team leaders, supervisors, business owners and organizations can take simple yet effective actions in order to improve the quality of life of LGBTQ+ professionals at the workplace. Some health and wellness practices that can be taken up in the workplace are:
- Offering mental health benefits and extensive insurance
- Making space to address mental health at work
- Paying fair wages to alleviate financial anxiety
- Investing in diversity and inclusion
- Cultivating a welcoming work culture
Offering mental health benefits and extensive insurance
Perhaps one of the most impactful ways of making a positive change in your employees’ mental health is to offer them extensive insurance that also covers mental health benefits. The benefits and the healthcare packages should include counseling with mental health professionals and other related treatments to holistically support the well-being of each employee.Knowing that their health package covers both their physical and psychological needs will make employees feel more at ease and empower them to better navigate the stress of work life.
Making space to address mental health at work
Creating a safe and supportive space to address mental health is an essential part of building a healthy and well-functioning workplace. Whether this space is created through regular company meetings, an efficient feedback system or HR consultancy sessions it is important that employees have the available channels to express their mental health concerns and needs, and that they feel their concerns are heard.
Paying fair wages to alleviate financial anxiety
Unfortunately, the wage gap is still one of the main issues that perpetuate financial inequalities at the workplace. Statistics show that LGBTQ+ professionals make almost 10% less than their colleagues.In order to work towards greater equality, make sure you address the wage gaps between LGBTQ+ employees and those who don’t identify themselves as a part of the community to tackle the problem. Getting fair wages in return for their hard work is key to making sure your employees are satisfied with their work life, and that they don’t have to struggle with financial anxiety.
Investing in diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives
Diversity and inclusion are not just keywords for companies, organizations or businesses to “namedrop” to check certain boxes. They are principles that need to be materialized through concrete policies and initiatives. Try modeling your company’s inclusion and diversity policies based on global companies with tried and working initiatives and policies.For instance, doing some research on how an employee resource group (ERG) might be beneficial for your organization is a good idea. ERGs were first established in some companies in the US by Black employees in order to cope with race-based tensions in the workplace. Other organizations and companies put anti-discrimination and harassment policies that aim to protect their employees from being targeted, and anti-retaliation policies to make sure these frameworks are actually functional.
Developing a welcoming work culture
Lastly, we need to emphasize that any company or organization can benefit from the lasting effects of having developed a welcoming work culture. The development and the cultivation of such an atmosphere are achieved by information, education, effective communication and transparency.
As we leave another Pride Month behind…
Make sure to keep in mind that harassment and discrimination, healthcare disparities, being out at work and difficulties in work-life balance can cause elevated levels of stress and degradation of overall mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals in professional life.Team leaders and business owners can help LGBTQ+ individuals overcome the challenges they are facing by offering mental health benefits and extensive insurance, making space to address mental health at work, paying fair wages to alleviate financial anxiety, investing in diversity and inclusion as well as cultivating a welcoming work culture.