We’ve all heard the HR mantra about “work/life” balance. But it’s safe to say that we—as a society—are past debate about its importance. Work/life balance is a widely accepted part of the employer/employee dynamic. In other words, the notion that people can fit their professional and personal commitments onto one calendar is pretty much baked into the cake. But there’s another element that’s even more fundamental and important than having enough time to do laundry.
Employees today crave recognition for their senses of identity and self. They want the totality of their personhood to be respected, appreciated, and integrated into their workplace alongside everyone else’s. This need transcends any one category, too. It includes the realms of neurodiversity, gender, cultural heritage, race, and ethnicity. This also includes sexual orientation—which many are especially mindful of during Pride month.
Each of these traits is different and has different implications. But they’re all unchangeable, and that means that accepting your employees means accepting their differences, too. Here are some ideas for putting this into practice (keep in mind that many of these are required at least to some degree by state law, federal law, or both):
When it comes to benefits, some employers offer Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements (ICHRAs) in addition to group health plans they offer. ICHRAs provide a benefit to those who are not eligible for the employer’s traditional group health plans and may be better served with coverage on a federal or state Marketplace Exchange. Additionally, taxable Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSAs) are gaining some traction recently in the U.S., as an alternative to a formal “wellness” program.
Humans are natural born storytellers. Our knack for spinning yarns is as old and deep as our love of hearing them. It doesn’t matter your background, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, or experiences. All humans have storytelling brains that we use to tell the world the story of our lives. It’s a powerful tool, but not one that all people have always been able to share.
Regardless of labels, employees need to be able to be themselves in the workplace. Few heterosexual people think twice about how they talk about their spouse, children, or family at work. But for queer individuals, there is a risk in every time they bring up their personal life. Their colleagues could rebuke them. It could damage their standing at work and therefore their career and livelihood. It could even lead to violence. While many of those reactions would be illegal, they’re all too real. These individuals can therefore face those risks or censor core parts of their identity. In essence, they’d be doing two jobs at once—the one they’re paid for, and the costly emotional job of making sure everyone else wasn’t uncomfortable.
Employees who aren’t comfortable being themselves at work are pulling double duty. They “code switch” and play a different persona while at work. Psychologists warn that this makes people feel isolated, anxious, and depressed. We’ve already gone over some things that might help employers provide a haven for employees to be authentic. But just remember, they need everyone’s help to feel seen, welcome, and authentic. Fortunately, allies have the power to help.
In this context, allies have a lot of power, especially when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. Hopefully it is clear how genuine acceptance helps people thrive no matter what might make them different. There isn’t much personal direct benefit that incentivizes allies to stand up or make room for their LGBTQ+ colleagues. However, standing up for others is an example of humanity at its very best. We all strive to live up to our ideals in the workplace, and that should apply not only to your performance as an employee but also as a human. Working to be a welcoming, supportive ally helps your colleagues do their best. And just as importantly, it’s a good way for you to be your best self, too.
We all come with personal narratives. Afterall, we’re all natural born storytellers. Owning our narratives with pride can be the best way to be both fully authentic and fully effective members of a team. So it’s on us as friends and colleagues, managers and supervisors, to help people realize their full potential by simply accepting who they are. It’s on all of us as allies to use our power to uplift our colleagues.