This month is Pride Month, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, raising awareness to promote equality, inclusion and acceptance of sexuality and gender identity in all walks of life, including in the workplace.
LGBTQ+ is the currently accepted acronym describing the community of individuals of non-heterosexual sexualities and non cis-gender identities. Formerly referred to as the LGBT community, ‘Q’ (queer or questioning) and ‘+’ (other non-hetero sexualities including, among other sexual orientations, pansexuality, polyamory and asexuality) have been added in an attempt to be more inclusive, various other acronyms are currently in debate, so it is highly likely that, over time, other acronyms will become more widely used.
Anyone can experience a mental health problem. However, LGBTQ+ individuals can be at higher risk of experiencing mental health and wellbeing challenges than the wider population, often due to feeling judged, discrimination, homophobia, or bullying. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation states that half of LGBTQ+ people have experienced depression, and three in five have experienced anxiety.
Those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ are statistically more likely to develop mental health or emotional wellbeing problems such as:
- Low self-esteem
- Anxiety, including social anxiety
- Eating problems or disorders
- Misuse of drugs and alcohol
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Other mental health problems
In the workplace, conflict or discrimination can take place in many forms including but not limited to direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. A study carried out by Mental Health UK of more than 15,000 workers, found that 40% LGBTQ+ employees and more than 55% of trans workers experienced conflict in the workplace over the last 12 months. This is compared to 29% of heterosexual and cisgender employees.
The same study also found that 16% of LGBTQ+ workers and 18% of trans employees felt mentally unsafe in the workplace. This is compared to 10% of heterosexual workers.
Experiencing any form of conflict, discrimination or harassment at work can make an individual less likely to be productive and engaged at work, more likely to be absent or resign, and more likely to experience poor mental health.
Tips to Support LGBTQ+ Mental Health in the Workplace
1. Promote LGBTQ+ awareness and acceptance within the workplace
Have an Inclusion Policy in place and communicate this as a clear mission to all employees, including managers and senior staff. This could be delivered through diversity and inclusion training, as well as strategies for supporting LGBTQ+ employees. Also, utilise awareness days or months, such as Pride Month, to show your support of the community, promoting awareness throughout your organisation.
2. Ensure policies and internal communications are LGBTQ+ inclusive
Where policies apply equally to all employees regardless of biological sex or gender identity, consider altering the language of company-wide communications and documentation to gender-neutral terminology, for example, ‘spouse’ instead of husband or wife.
You may also want to consider whether your policy documents and employment contracts take into consideration things such as gender-neutral parental leave, and whether you have a policy which ensures that individual verbal and written internal communications respect the preferred names and pronouns of the individual.
3. Offer wellbeing & mental health support to all employees
LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk of facing mental health and emotional wellbeing challenges, so it’s important to ensure your organisation can offer easily accessible support to all employees when it is needed.
Offer your employees access to an EAP for mental health support and wellbeing resources. Also, ensure managers and team leaders are aware of any services you have in place and how to refer an employee if required.
4. Take LGBTQ+ discrimination seriously
Establish an anti-discrimination policy for your organisation and be sure that all employees know what is not tolerated in the workplace. In cases of homophobic or transphobic bullying or harassment, promptly recognise the problem as unacceptable and take appropriate action with the employees involved.
In instances where homophobic or transphobic behaviour is happening at an organisational level, employees can utilise whistleblowing services if an employer has this in place, to disclose an incident without fear of reprisal.
5. Ensure equality in the workplace for LGBTQ+ individuals
Equality means equal opportunities and fairness for employees from all backgrounds. The Equality Act 2010 can protect against inequality in the workplace around protected characteristics, however, it can and does still happen.
Ensuring the organisation has policies in place, such as an inclusion policy, equality and diversity training, and that managers are well informed on these subjects will lead to a proactive workforce.
By following these tips and putting measures in place to support mental health and wellbeing for LGBTQIA+ employees, as well as promoting inclusivity, you support a healthy, happy, productive workforce.