Supporting workplace mental health for 2SLGBTQIA+ workers
By Sarah B. Hood
As discussions around mental health in the workplace increase, research is more clearly showing how various work situations can affect different types of people. There is a growing understanding of challenges for 2SLGBTQIA+ workers; happily, some of the solutions are simple.
In October 2022, Benjamin Owens and Suzanne Mills of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University, Nathaniel Lewis of the Utah Department of Health & Human Services, and Adrian Guta of the School of Social Work at the University of Windsor published a study titled Work- related stressors and mental health among LGBTQ workers.1Based on a survey of 662 2SLGBTQIA+ workers in Sudbury and Windsor, Ont., the study was designed to examine how workplace factors relate to mental health for 2SLGBTQIA+ people.
Although, as they note, 2SLGBTQIA+ people tend to “have poorer mental health outcomes compared with cisgender heterosexual people,” the researchers found differences even within their fairly specific focus group. For instance, they write, “LGBTQ workers with poor or neutral mental health had greater odds of being cisgender women or trans compared with being cisgender men.” Unsurprisingly, factors such as “precarious work and unsupportive work environments contribute to poor mental health among LGBTQ people,” especially trans workers.
“As we know, queer and trans workers face issues that all workers face, and they also have issues unique to themselves,” says Michael Green, Learning and Resource Coordinator, Integrated Youth Hubs with the Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We’ve seen a lot more interest and understanding on why mental health issues and queer and trans involvement are important for the workplace,” he explains. “Productivity can be improved just by taking care of mental health in the workplace, and that goes for queer and trans inclusion as well.”
However, even in this generally positive environment, there are still challenges. “A key thing that I have noted is an interesting correlation between rates of non-queer and non-trans workers who say that they would welcome their queer and trans colleagues, but who also say that they think discussing your own sexuality is not acceptable in the workplace,” he notes.
Beyond Diversity: An LGBT Best Practice Guide for Employers,2published by Pride at Work Canada alongside the global organization Great Place to Work, cites the 2014 In & Out study of Canadian workplaces, which found that “almost 30 per cent of LGBT-identified respondents felt that they experienced discrimination in the workplace as opposed to 2.9 per cent of the general population.” It also notes that “while overt racism, sexism and homophobia are not as prevalent as it was a decade ago, diversity in workplaces has not yet translated into true inclusiveness.”
The authors of Work-related stressors and mental health among LGBTQ workers note that “workplaces that are supportive of LGBTQ people decrease depression and anxiety and job anxiety specifically.” Employers can make a big difference in creating a supportive environment, and some of the ways to do so are relatively simple.
Of course, it starts with systemic changes. Beyond Diversity identifies 12 strategies to promote 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion; these include support from senior management and the creation of an anti-discrimination and harassment policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Also important are benefits packages that include focused supports, especially in the area of gender transition. Currently, according to Beyond Diversity, only 44 per cent of Canadian companies actively support trans workers in transition.
“Benefits packages do not typically include benefits that are specific to queer and trans folks,” Green says, mentioning HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) as an item that is rarely covered, along with “private rooms for trans folks when they go for surgery of any type, which are key for their dignity and their safety.”
Training is important at all levels, and ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) are another critical resource; Beyond Diversity reports that “74 per cent of organizations have an LGBT-focused ERG.”
Green says that ERGs, at their best, can be “change makers,” but they “shouldn’t just be a collection point for LGBTQ+ people to get together. They should be places that lead system changes. Really effective ERGs are funded through the work environment and have executive attendance.”
Meanwhile, some important actions are as simple as using gender-neutral and inclusive language, “be it on our business cards or names on doors in the office – those are elements that are not just on leadership. Everyone in the workplace can take part in that, and it’s also a very easy area,” Green says.
“ Productivity can be improved just by taking care of mental health in the workplace, and that goes for queer and trans inclusion as well.  
“I always encourage people to understand their rights,” he adds. “Pride at Work Canada has a document called Know Your Rights: A Guide for LGBTQ2+ Employees3 that includes case studies as well as existing law. Understanding your rights is a critical step to being able to advocate for yourself.”