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LGBT-Inclusive Policies Lead To Healthier Workplaces And (Possibly) Better Bottom Lines

Making official decisions to treat all your employees well leads, unsurprisingly, to good results.

Today’s entry in the annals of things that should be obvious, but aren’t: Treating employees with respect, regardless of sexual orientation, has a positive impact on a business’s workplace environment and bottom line.

The news comes from a Williams Institute report that looked at 36 research studies focusing on the impact of LGBT-supportive workplaces on business bottom lines and LGBT workers. Here are some of the highlights.

  • As a general rule, non-discrimination policies lead to (surprise!) less discrimination. These same policies make it easier for employees to be open about their sexual identities. One of the studies looked at even found that having a partner covered by a nondiscrimination policy makes it more likely that an employee will be open about their sexuality.
  • LGBT employees who work for businesses with nondiscrimination policies—and with workplaces that are perceived to be supportive—are psychologically healthier than their counterparts working in unsupportive environments. Specifically, they’re less likely to feel distracted, depressed, and exhausted. And domestic partner benefit policies boost self-esteem. Those positive well-being outcomes spill over to non-LGBT employees as well; one 2005 study discussed in the research paper found that LGBT-supportive workplaces had "significant and positive effects on job-related variables such as turnover intentions."
  • Supportive policies cause LGBT employees to be more "socially and altruistically engaged in the workplace"—meaning they do nice things in the workplace that aren’t always related to their job requirements. Employees who exhibit these "organizational citizenship behaviors" (OCBs) are also more productive at work.

It’s not easy to link supportive workplaces and nondiscrimination policies to larger organizational outcomes; there just isn’t much research available. Keeping that in mind, the report surmises that giving health benefits to same-sex partners of employees could lead to higher workplace productivity and decreased use of sick days.

From the report:

In the general population, lack of health insurance is associated with decreased utilization of preventative services and delays in care among those with chronic poor health, which can lead to an increased likelihood of premature death, poorer quality of life, and greater functional impairment, including reduced work productivity (Institute of Medicine, 2009). As increased coverage can yield improvements in the health of an LGBT employee or their same-sex partner, LGBT employees may show more engagement in the workplace and higher levels of productivity.

There’s also the growing group of socially responsible consumers to take into consideration. The Williams Institute speculates that having LGBT-supportive workplace policies opens brands up to new customers who support their ideals. In one 2005 study, consumers were asked to react to one company with "gay-friendly" policies and one without. Both the LGBT and straight participants reacted more positively to the gay-friendly company. One caveat: The straight consumers had a higher brand commitment to the non-gay-friendly company. So perceived gay-friendliness can only help some of the time.

The Williams Institute even found some evidence—albeit thin—that LGBT-supportive policies can impact stock prices. A 2010 study found that the stock of companies with strong LGBT-friendly policies performed better from 2002 to 2006 than companies without those policies in the same industry. But the study doesn’t get more specific than that. The Williams report notes: "The construction of the stock price variable in that study does not allow for assessing the amount of change in the actual stock price."

The entire Williams Institute report comes with some big caveats. The studies examined generally surveyed LGBT employees who are white, well-educated, and have high average incomes. Few of the studies included bisexual or transgendered employees. And between 9.1% and 18% of participants in studies looking at the effects of nondiscrimination policies and domestic partnership benefits didn’t even know if these policies existed at their company.

More research is undoubtedly needed in this space. But for now, it’s safe to say that having LGBT-inclusive policies will do more good than harm.

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