Linking Employee Emotional and Corporate Wellbeing: A Focus on the LGBTQ+ Community in Recognition of Pride Month

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By: Tony Garavaglia for the Willis Towers Watson Wire, Photo by Harry Quan on Unsplash

Do you know it is legal in 30 states to be fired, denied housing, denied credit or denied general services simply for being LGBTQ+? 

That may be a surprise to many people, but not to your LGBTQ+ employees. That’s why a company’s focus on its LGBTQ+ employees must move beyond unconscious bias training, transgender benefits, getting a high or 100% Corporate Equality Index (CEI) score and having a business or employee resource group (BRG or ERG). Organizations need to think holistically about how they are emotionally, socially, physically and financially supporting the LGBTQ+ portion of their workforce, as well as the LGBTQ+ dependents of the workforce covered under these benefits.

As our Best Practices in Health Care research shows, wellbeing initiatives are no longer “nice to have” in today’s corporate strategy, but are now a requirement across four key, integrated components: physical, emotional, financial and social. Companies with higher levels of wellbeing achieve levels of employee engagement two times higher than other companies. They also report higher revenue per employee, lower health care costs, fewer days lost and 70% fewer stressed employees.

Focus on emotional wellbeing, including the concept of covering

The emotional wellbeing of all employees is critical to overall corporate results. It can impact benefits and broader rewards cost, employee productivity and retention. While all employees have experiences that impact their overall wellbeing, the LGBTQ+ community is burdened with additional stressors beyond those commonly felt by non-LGBTQ+ individuals and are 2½ times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. For this reason, providing a strong emotional wellbeing and EAP program is critical to supporting today’s diverse workforce.

As noted, it is legal in 30 states to be fired, denied housing, denied credit or denied general services for being LGBTQ+. The emotional stress this places on the LGBTQ+ community can impact their ability to be productive and innovative if they don’t feel psychologically safe to bring their true selves to work each day. The emotional wellbeing of the transgender community is especially concerning. In November of 2018, the Human Rights Campaign released a report detailing the ongoing epidemic of violence targeting the transgender community, particularly black transgender women. This report identified 26 violent deaths of transgender people in the United States.

The fear of being fired from a job simply for being part of the LGBTQ+ community results in several members of the LGBTQ+ community “covering” who they are at work, which leads to decreased emotional wellbeing.

Covering in the workplace is the act of concealing something about one’s self to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable or to lessen attention to a given characteristic. It’s not about hiding something for untoward purposes, but downplaying pieces of one’s identity such as race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation to avoid feelings of anxiety, frustration or fear.

Covering can lead one to feel psychologically unsafe, but utilizes employee energy to conceal and, therefore, leads to less effective work.

Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking and a feeling of confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. Psychological safety matters because it directly links to business results through increased innovation and creative problem solving in teams, enhanced attraction and retention, more effective managers and teams, increased employee engagement and direct contribution to a more inclusive workplace.

While this piece is focused on the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to note there are several examples of covering that can impact psychological safety such as:

  • A young woman struggling with mental illness uses vacation days instead of revealing she’s going to the doctor
  • A practicing Muslim goes to his car to pray
  • A working mom keeps photos of her kids off of her desk to appear more career-driven
  • Changing appearance, such as straightening hair, to look less ethnic

As we celebrate LGBTQ+ pride month, we want to acknowledge that the emotional wellbeing of employees who identify within this population, as well as allies, is directly linked to corporate results and overall corporate wellbeing. We encourage all employers to review their current corporate culture as it relates to inclusion and diversity with a focus this month on LGBTQ+ employees and review current policies, benefits, and engage your Employee Resource Groups to assist in the movement toward equality.

Willis Towers Watson has several resources to assist employers in evaluating their current practices as it relates to all inclusion and diversity issues. We have also listed resources below to assist LGBTQ+ employees in strengthening their wellbeing across the four dimensions: physical, emotional, financial and social.


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