Two white guys one in a beret drinking wine and cuddling outside

As a population that is still largely stigmatized and oppressed in most areas of the world, the LGBTQ community is used to an extra set of challenges in their lives, including finding a work-life balance. In the U.S., this is an area where many Americans struggle in general, with about 26% of employees working between 45 to 59 hours each week, and 12% working over 60 hours a week.

How much an employee works directly affects their work-life balance, but factor in how comfortable they feel at work and this may further affect it. According to a qualitative study of 53 LGB employees across various industries in the U.S., most LGBTQ families feel that their family identity is stigmatized at their workplace. This has a large effect on their work-life balance because they feel forced to separate their work from their home-life.

Work-Life Balance Struggles

Although Americans are now more accepting and supportive of same-sex marriage than ever before, many LGBTQ employees still don’t feel comfortable coming out in their workplace. The Huffington Post cited a study by the Center for Talent Innovation that “found that 46 percent of LGBT employees in the United States are not out in their professional lives.”

Creating a hard line between work and their private lives has daily impact that affects these employees’ ability to communicate with their peers, as well as company management. In many workplaces, breaks and downtime are often filled with employees making small talk about their weekend plans with their families or spouses, or other life details that they may be thinking about.

Although this is often a nice way to unwind and establish camaraderie with their fellow coworkers, LGBTQ employees often feel less able to do this for fear of making a political statement. Most often, they avoid the subject and sharing personal details about their lives altogether. Not integrating their personal lives with work can cause them to refuse to take a breaks and miss out on casually unwinding, which can increase their stress levels.

For particularly high-stress careers, such as those in the social services field, rest and repose are a must in order to avoid developing feelings of anxiety or depression. Queer individuals who don’t take time to unwind and chat about their day-to-day lives with coworkers can potentially lose their work-life balance, which may lead to burnout more quickly in particularly stressful jobs.

Casual conversation can be very relieving for employees who spend long hours at the office; however, there are other more technical struggles to finding work-life balance in a workplace that aren’t explicitly inclusive. Often, talking about a personal relationship can be an important part of keeping an employer in the loop with important life events that may be impacting their work.

If an employee feels unable to do this for fear of the stigma they might face from their employer, they may avoid communicating with their employer about important aspects of their lives. For LGBTQ employees who adopt or are considering adopting, taking advantage of family-related benefits may weigh heavily on them, as they may feel that their family is seen as illegitimate in the eyes of those who solely value traditional family relationships.

Effects of a Stigmatized Family Identity

In the workplace, employment discrimination affects over 40% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees, which can often make them unwilling to talk to about personal life details with coworkers. Whether or not a workplace is respectful of diverse sexual orientations is often clear in the way they talk to their employees. Workplaces that welcome the LGBTQ community often use inclusive language, especially when discussing an employee’s personal life.

During work events, employers or managers may tell employees to bring their partners instead of spouses. Although this is a seemingly minute detail, without doing this, LGBTQ employees may feel that their significant other isn’t actually invited. Employers that don’t acknowledge diversity in the sexual orientation of their employees create perceptions that suggest partners or couples that stray from the norm are not welcome, which can keep LGBTQ employees from merging their personal lives with their work lives.

Gay or lesbian couples will often avoid work events, not just because they will be the minority, but for fear of making their coworkers feel uncomfortable with their presence. Although everyone is just living their lives, LGBTQ couples often feel that by displaying their lives, they are making a political statement to their workplace. Therefore, for workplaces to create an inclusive environment, they must use language that is specifically inviting to minority couples.

Although there are some anti-discrimination legal protections established to protect LGBTQ couples in the workplace, there’s a lot of tension in the current social climate. Many queer couples feel uncomfortable merging their private and work lives, which can strain their personal relationships and make it difficult for them to achieve work-life balance. However, as workplaces work to become more inclusive, LGBTQ employees will hopefully have an easier time opening up at work and feeling that their differences are welcome.