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June 23, 2022 Haeli Harris

How HR Teams Can Support the Mental Health of LGBTQIA+ Employees

During Pride Month and All Year Long

If you employ humans, you have the corporate responsibility of taking care of everyone you hire.

Mental health programs are an increasingly popular way to help achieve this. But no mental health program is complete unless company leaders prioritize the needs of LGBTQIA+ employees throughout the organization.

It is challenging for folks in the LGBTQIA+ community to find mental health care and feel safe at work. Barriers like the lack of counselors specializing in gender identity and sexuality, plus discrimination in the workplace, make it especially hard for those in this community to receive support.

34% of LGBTQIA+ employees have left a job due to treatment by their employer, whether that be discrimination or little support.

Employers need to take intersectionality and equality into account if they want to support their employees to the fullest. 

5 Key Ways to Support LQBTQIA+ Employees in the Workplace

  1. Learn about the LQBTQIA+ community
  2. Demonstrate your support for the LGBTQIA+ community
  3. Hold a seminar that lifts LQBTQIA+ voices
  4. Educate employees about resources that are available to them
  5. Revisit company policies

1. Learn about the LQBTQIA+ community

It is challenging to help people if you don’t seek to understand them. 

Grab coffee with an LGBTQIA+ community member, watch movies, read books, and research online. Be curious!

Here are some online resources for allies to check out:

2. Demonstrate your support for the LGBTQIA+ community

Not long ago, employees were expected to bring their professional selves to work and not show their genuine selves. HR has worked to create environments where employees feel that they can be their authentic selves through fun team activities, manager one-on-ones, providing mental health programs, and more.

Sharing your authentic self at work has become even more critical in the last couple of years, now that work is the primary source of community and social interaction for many people.

Opening the workplace up to mental health conversations is one of the best ways to create an accepting and respectful work community. If employees are uncomfortable discussing their mental health at work, they likely won’t feel comfortable sharing their queer identity, and vice versa. About 38% of employees don’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their manager. There has been tremendous progress in recent years. However, many queer employees still struggle to share their voices and authentic selves at work.

50% of LGBTQIA+ employees are not out to their manager, and 26% are not out to any coworkers. 

Sabrina Surovec (they/them), Mental Health Counselor Associate (MHCA) at Nivati and founder of Rainbow Head Therapy in Japan, specializes in trauma, PTSD, grief, stress, and gender identity. Here is their take on how company leaders can demonstrate their support to the LGBTQIA+ community:

“I think one way that they [company leaders] can really help people to feel safe is to create an atmosphere straight away where they reinforce ideals about diversity and acceptance. In general: speaking to everyone on the progress flag. Company leaders can come forward in support of Pride Month specifically, or if there are out employees, assist them in any way they can, especially if they are having trouble, and create a ‘safe space’ atmosphere where they can ask for help.” – Sabrina Surovec, Mental Health Counselor Associate and gender identity expert at Nivati

One simple way to do this is to share a Pride Month message to employees to show support. A simple Slack message, email, or announcement during a company meeting is a great place to start. Here is an example you can use for inspiration:

“June is Pride Month, and we want to encourage everyone to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate! Remember that you can always reach out to HR or your manager for support or resources to support you.”

Company leaders can also update their email signatures to include their pronouns, which shows that they are an ally to the community.

3. Hold a seminar that lifts LGBTQIA+ voices

Holding a seminar or lunch and learn is a great way to kickstart the LGBTQIA+ conversation at your company and educate employees on Pride Month’s history and the resources available to them.

Mx. Surovec gives some advice on topics to discuss:How HR Teams Can Support the Mental Health of LGBTQIA+ Employees - image of the pride flag

“There’s a huge lack of understanding of the gender spectrum, and I think that’s a very important term that needs to be out there more often. It’s okay to be one thing one day and something else the next day. Words like nonbinary, gender fluid, gender diverse, gender nonconforming, and more are great words to educate employees about.”

“It is important for companies to bring awareness to all the different labels out there and get more traction behind them. People are familiar with the ‘LGBT’ but they tend to disregard the rest of the initialism (the ‘QIA+’), or even hate things they don’t understand or aren’t familiar with. Educating employees is a great place to start a positive dialogue around these topics.”

Have a company leader introduce the topic and share a brief history of the community. Having an employee or other company representatives share their LGBTQIA+ story is also powerful.

Mx. Surovec recommends bringing in a counselor to talk to your team about these topics as well, or even better, have an in-house therapist or therapist on call to “create more of an atmosphere of openness and communication at work.”

“People are stressed out at work, and they’re being bullied, and they have nowhere to go and no one to talk to who can change it if they want to. Counselors should be making appearances and giving talks in companies, and leading diversity seminars that encourage actual communication on these topics. Bring in queer people from the community and from other companies to talk about their experiences for your seminars as well,” explains Mx. Surovec.

Consider having a recurring group meeting or seminar in support of the community throughout the year.

4. Educate employees about resources that are available to them

Make sure to remind employees of all the mental health and LGBTQIA+ resources that are available to them, including:

  • Your EAP and mental health program that supports the queer community
  • A list of your company’s mental health champions or LGBTQIA+ allies
  • Educational resources on Pride Month and the LGBTQIA+ community, like the ones in section 1 of this article
  • A reminder that employees are free to take a mental health day and take PTO for self-care purposes
  • Links to hotlines like The Trevor Project 

Mx. Surovec also recommends that employees seek (or create) online communities like Discord servers and social media profiles to find acceptance and supportive communities outside of work.

5. Revisit company policies

Now that your team has taken actionable steps to support the mental health and wellbeing of queer employees, it is time to make sure your company has a clear roadmap for the future.

Here are some company policies and benefits to revisit:

  • Make sure the language used throughout your employee handbook, company resources, and job descriptions are inclusive (i.e., “partner” instead of “husband or wife.”).
  • Work with your health insurance provider to ensure that you support LGBTQIA+ folks and their needs appropriately.
  • Ensure your employees can talk with licensed counselors and life coaches who are experts on gender identity and LGBTQIA+ through your mental health program.

If you need support while working through this, reach out to your mental health program provider. They should be able to help direct your focus on which policies to revisit.

Mx. Surovec leaves company leaders with this: “At the root of all of this, the way to start the conversation is just to be human and be authentic. People don’t respond well to statistics and technical jargon. People respond to emotions. If you tell your story, people will hear you. I think people often fear what they don’t know, so being able to bridge that gap with a human connection is helpful.”

 

Learn About the Power of Self-Care

Download the Mental Health Tool Kit to learn about mental health in the workplace – what it is, why it matters, and how you can start supporting employee mental health!

 

Disclaimer

By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris

Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Lead Counselor at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, UT & HI
Registered Yoga Teacher 200
Trauma Conscious Yoga (2021)
Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Education
Bachelor's of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Utah
Master's of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Northcentral University

MENTAL HEALTH FOR THE WHOLE EMPLOYEE