How Companies Make It Harder for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Employees to Achieve Work-Life Balance
Companies have been paying closer attention to work-family conflict and work-life balance over the last several decades.
In many successful organizations, there is a heavy investment in offering programs that give employees more job-related flexibility, time for personal activities, and convenience. By promoting a positive work-family culture, employers are able to maintain a happier, healthier, and more committed workforce, which contributes to the bottom line.
But are companies missing something when it comes to addressing issues of work and family? Our research says that they are, and it could be a big problem from a diversity and inclusion perspective.
Recently, we conducted a qualitative study in which we interviewed 53 lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) employees in the U.S. across various industries and job types. Specifically, we asked about their work-family experiences at their current organizations. Our study was motivated by the observation that, since its inception more than 30 years ago, research on work-family conflict in organizations has assumed that employees belong to a heterosexual family structure (one man and one woman). Our goal was to determine whether previous research on employees’ experiences of work-family conflict applied similarly to LGB employees and their families.
We found that, although LGB employees experience many of the same work-family conflicts that their heterosexual colleagues do — for example, work time interfering with family time, or feeling unable to separate from work at home — they experience a range of additional conflicts related to their stigmatized family identity. These include a sense of tension over whether to take advantage of family-related benefits for fear of revealing their same-sex relationship, feeling conflicted over whether to bring spouses to work events, and feeling uneasy about discussing with a supervisor the family-related challenges that impact their work life.
We also wanted to know what was causing these unique experiences of work-family conflict, and how employees in our sample coped with them. In particular, we learned that when work environments signaled to employees that their family “type” was less accepted, compared with more traditional families, they were more likely to experience stigma-based work-family conflict. Participants reported that the lack an explicit invitation for “partners” instead of “spouses” to family-related work events, or the absence of a comprehensive benefits package for same-sex partners, often led to perceptions that their family was unwelcome or less accepted in their workplace. Similarly, hearing coworkers discuss issues of “family” in a very traditional way, without considering that families might not all take the same form, led participants to report a sense of uneasiness over how receptive their coworkers and supervisors would be to their specific work-family challenges.
August 23, 2018, by Katina Sawyer and Christian Thoroughgood, Harvard business review
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