What support can employers offer for staff going through gender transition?

  • Employers can help by constructing a manageable timeline of changes they may want to implement, such as changing names or pronouns at work.
  • Employers may want to look at how a transitioning employee would like their transition to be communicated to other staff.
  • Ultimately by having effective and meaningful wellbeing support in place will create a healthier business, both culturally and commercially.

Staff gender transition is a subject that is becoming more considered by businesses, as awareness increases of the nuances of gender within the broader diversity, equity and inclusion banner. It is important to make everyone in the workplace aware of the challenges gender can bring for some people, as ignorance can lead to feelings of being unsupported, isolated and alone.

The importance of conversations

Suzanne Marshall, clinical governance officer at wellbeing and performance specialist GoodShape, is of the opinion that leaders need to engage in open-minded, honest conversations about what their employees require from them. “Does an individual need ongoing catch ups or help in how they communicate with their team or colleagues? Employers can help by constructing a manageable timeline of changes they may want to implement, such as changing names or pronouns at work,” she says.

It is important for employees to feel supported and respected for their life choices by an organisation creating a diverse, open and honest culture.

Rachel Western, principal at professional services firm Aon, believes that employers have a duty of care towards all members of staff, including communicating well and in a way that meets individual needs. “Other elements include addressing any concerns such as those of abuse or harassment, and ensuring that an individual’s privacy and dignity is maintained at all times. Individuals in a transitioning situation may feel differing requirements to other employees, so it’s important to engage in this to allow duty of care responsibilities to be met at an individual level,” she states.

Healthcare support

Some private medical insurance (PMI) policies now offer benefits for gender transition or gender dysphoria.

Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at intermediary Towergate Health and Protection, explains that support can vary from a pot of money to more specific benefits. “Most PMI policies as standard will give information about what gender transition or gender confirmation means, what options are available to individuals looking for support and signpost to various support resources from organisations, podcasts, books, counselling and support services,” she says. “They may also include cover, or a pot of money may be set aside, for instance within a trust-based scheme, to be used for surgery should that be required.”

Meanwhile, Marshall suggests maintaining flexibility and understanding. “There may be absences for doctor and hospital appointments and workplace adjustments may be helpful. Provide employee assistance programmes (EAP) and make sure to highlight other support systems that could help such as unions, occupational health and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, plus] (LGBTQ+) support organisations.”

Additionally, James Love, UK healthcare leader – large corporate, at Mercer Marsh Benefits, adds that many insurers have started to include specific initiatives for gender dysphoria under their medical plans, ranging from counselling support through to surgical procedures. “Exploring this as part of [an employer’s] wider benefit strategy can help speed up access to gender identity clinics and onward support,” he says.

Workplace education

Education in terms of ensuring the correct use of language, pronouns and names wherever possible can go some way to protect people going through gender transition, and face bullying or harassment as a result.

Clark suggests that exploring how to open up conversations on the subject and what support is available, either privately or on the NHS, is critical to creating an inclusive culture in a business. “Line managers need to know what time off might be needed for appointments and if treatment is required, such as hormone treatment, what impact that might have on the individuals concerned. This isn’t a one-off event, it has ongoing repercussions,” she comments. “So supporting staff with access to an EAP, mental health cover through employee benefits, and signposting to charities that can provide relevant, appropriate support is useful.”

What an individual considers confidential information needs to be respected as such. Education about pronouns and how individuals would like to be referred to, office facilities like gender neutral toilets, as well as communication, will help. “Employers may want to look at how a transitioning employee would like their transition to be communicated to other staff,” says Western. “Some may wish to do it themselves, have a general HR email, face-to-face sessions or educational workshops. Perhaps explore whether communications should be company-wide, department or team level only.”

Update policies

A key requirement for a business is to ensure that they are creating a respectful work environment for those transitioning. Marshall suggests checking policies to make sure they address this as well as listening to any person at the heart of it as they will be best equipped to help with this. “Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination, and make sure to discuss it with the wider team so everyone is aware. Ensure policies for data protection and time off for any necessary medical appointments are up to date. Include LGBTQ+ awareness in leadership training and get staff at all levels to find out more about gender transitions,” she states.

Furthermore, Western is of the opinion that it is key to have strong polices and processes that advocate a diverse workforce and state clearly what is expected from all employees as well as what the organisation commits to. “This approach also encourages transitioning employees to be open and communicative about their needs while transitioning,” she says.

Wellbeing support

Offering support of this kind will show that employers treat everyone the same no matter what the issue is.

Marshall believes that knowing support is there for everyone whatever the circumstances will benefit all staff. “It will also mean that employees have confidence, trust and respect in their leaders. Ultimately having effective and meaningful wellbeing support in place will create a healthier business, both culturally and commercially,” she says.

It is widely understood that staff who are happy and well at work are likely to be more productive, take fewer sick days and demonstrate greater loyalty to a business.

Clark recommends making everyone feel like they can bring their real selves to work, saying this is important to their wellbeing. “Support doesn’t just help the people facing a challenge with their gender but it also helps others around them, it helps build the right culture to get the best out of an organisation’s greatest asset, their staff.”

Many employees want to work for an organisation that demonstrates the same values as they themselves hold. Love says that it is essential for employers to progress in this area.

“A successful business in terms of retaining and attracting staff demonstrates to individuals transitioning, their workforce and their industry, how they are supporting their employee base. With demand for talent being competitive, those not acting now may ultimately lose out,” he says.