Ensuring your LGBTQ+ staff feel safe and supported all year round – and not just during Pride month – is incredibly important for their welfare and your overall working environment.

Protecting your staff is a legal requirement. Under the Equality Act (2010), sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics. Playing your part to protect staff against discrimination is the best way to encourage them to be their authentic selves and enjoy coming to work in a safe, open culture.

Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they’re more common among people who are LGBTIQ+. Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t cause the problem, but the lived experience of those in the community can be considerably different and challenging for some.

It’s important to remember the positive impact embracing LGBTQ+ colleagues in the workplace can have on someone’s wellbeing. If employees feel like they have to conceal who they are in the workplace, it can be incredibly draining and impact how comfortable they feel as part of your team.

LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to experience conflict and harassment at work

This can have a deep impact on employees, as well as your wider organisation. Getting the best out of your employees means making sure they feel safe working for you, both psychologically and physically.  Safety like this means that they’re empowered to be their most productive self.

When employees hold themselves back because they don’t feel able to share themselves in the way they’d like to, or because the working environment makes them feel suppressed, you’ll never get the best from their work ethic, their personality or experiences.

Avoiding unintentional discrimination

It’s important to note that even if you feel your workplace considers itself welcoming, it’s possible to unintentionally or unknowingly discriminate those in the LGBTQ+ community.

As an example, if over coffee room chat, a gay kiss featured on a TV show becomes the subject of jokes or mockery, LGBTQ+ employees could be deeply impacted by that. This could lead to LGBTQ+ employees not feeling comfortable to share things about themselves, from how they’ve been hurt by actions in the workplace, to what they did at the weekend. Exclusions like this can lead to divisions in the workplace, which can stop people from making valuable team contributions and sharing ideas. Without this, your company can’t benefit from the talent, insights and ideas of your diverse workforce.

Words and actions can create a hostile environment if they’re not kept in check. Being aware of this potential impact means that you can take steps to combat it and make the most of all your employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Why is it so important for organisations and employees to support LGBTQ+ employee mental health in the workplace?

When employees are empowered to be their true authentic selves, there’s a greater chance that they’ll be as productive as they can possibly be, and feel truly part of your wider team.

It’s important for organisations to realise that poor LGBTQ+ mental health comes in many forms. The nuances between different people within the LGBTQ+ banner could mean they’re more likely to be prone to certain mental health conditions over others. For example, transgender employees typically have much higher rates of suicidal thoughts or suicidality that an employee from the gay or lesbian community.

How can managers support someone from the LGBTQ+ community if they’re struggling with their mental health at work?

Line managers particularly are in a unique and important position to help set the standard for the rest of their team. The influence they have can help to set the right tone and help protect and celebrate all employees.

Remember your boundaries

If managers identify or consider that someone in their team may identify as LGBTQ+, remember that employee sexual orientation or gender identity is a private matter for each employee and not something you have automatic entitlement to know of. However, if an employee shares such information, remember that the act of disclosing it may be a huge step for the employee. Along with considering coming out to friends and family, employees often feel like they have to come out again, at work.

Be a standard bearer

Think about the ways you can set the tone in and out of work to encourage all employees to be their true selves. It could be something as simple as liking or sharing posts championing LGBTQ+ activity, on workplace intranet or platforms like LinkedIn. Simple actions like this are a lovely way to send a signal to everyone around you – not just those who are LGBTQ+ – that you’re open, accepting, and an ally to them.

Equally, sharing disappointment when LGBTQ+ people are portrayed negatively in the media is another great way to show allyship.

Be curious when appropriate

When employees share information about their sexual orientation or gender identity with you, demonstrate a healthy level of curiosity. If you’re worried about saying or asking the wrong thing, remember that your employee trusted you with their sensitive information in the first place. There’s no harm in asking questions that may encourage your employee to open up to you more. You can help to maintain and grow that feeling of safety by staying curious and encouraging employees to share more about themselves when they’re comfortable to.

What can organisations and line managers to do create more inclusive workplaces?

Recognise events

Take interest in local and national events geared towards the LGBTQ+ community and think about how your organisation may be able to get involved to help all staff members feel included. Pride is much more than festivals and parades. It’s about acceptance, equality and celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ people – so it’s worth considering organising events that educate and pledge time and efforts to the work of protecting communities.

Don’t rely on your LGBTQ+ staff to be the spokesperson for their whole community

Whilst LGBTQ+ staff might have ideas about what they’d like to see at work to help support them, they shouldn’t be seen as the single source of answers to be relied upon for all future decisions.

It’s worth asking team members who are happy to share their personal insights to what workplace measures could help increase their sense of belonging – they may even make suggestions that you hadn’t considered. Tapping into that resource and their lived experience can be a great start.

Dr Naveen Puri
Dr Naveen Puri
Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance | + posts

Dr Naveen Puri is Medical Director, Bupa UK Insurance. He was previously Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics and Lead Medical Appraiser, Bupa Group UK. Naveen is a doctor of 20 years’ experience, qualifying from Kings College London in 2004. He enjoyed an almost decade-long career as a NHS GP before joining Bupa. He is passionate about innovation and the digital transformation in medicine, prevention, personalisation, and precision in healthcare, and inclusive health and wellbeing.