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From Struggle to Strength: Empowering Employee Well-Being

Imagine possessing a hidden superpower at work—a reservoir of talent and dedication waiting to be fully tapped.


As we commemorate the anniversary of my gender confirmation surgery, I contemplate not only my journey but also the broader implications for workplace support and employee well-being. Consider the untapped potential within each employee, awaiting release through the right support and understanding from their organisation.


For years, I grappled with the mental strain of navigating societal expectations, expending significant energy on masking and managing dysphoria. Only after aligning my physical appearance with my inner identity did I realise its profound impact on my capacity for creativity, innovation, and focus in the workplace.


Allow me to share a brief story.


Do you remember the age at which you first saw your true self reflected in a mirror?

For me, that moment eluded me for years. I spent an eternity feeling like I wore a mask, concealing a fundamental part of myself.


Living with gender dysphoria, on this day in 2018, I underwent the final surgery to match my physical appearance with how I had always seen myself.


Each change that brought me into alignment, liberated my mind space previously occupied with masking, shame management, and concealing my gender dysphoria.


The series of surgeries culminating in this procedure significantly alleviated the dysphoria I experienced, providing me with additional capacity for creativity, innovation, and focus in my professional endeavours.


It's important to note that while surgery was essential for me, not all individuals require medical intervention.


Though greatly diminished, my gender dysphoria persists, primarily reflecting societal shame associated with factors like my thinning hair and voice.


Imagine harnessing the untapped potential of each employee, allowing them to offer their discretionary effort to your organisation. What value would that hold?


Studies on Untapped Potential:

Research by Eisenberger and Stinglhamber (1989) in the Academy of Management Journal reveals that employees with higher levels of autonomy and who feel valued by their organisations exert more discretionary effort.


Richeson and Shelton's (2003) study, "When Black Students Fail: Stereotype Threat and Academic Underperformance," in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, demonstrates the negative impact of societal burdens on cognitive function. This applies to various societal burdens impacting employees.


It may seem as though I am solely addressing the 0.5% of individuals undergoing gender transitions. However, all employees contend with societal shame related to poverty, relationships, caregiving responsibilities, families, health, and more, occupying valuable mind space.


This untapped potential remains unrealised unless organisations actively support individuals through these challenging times.


Psychological safety forms the cornerstone of this approach – creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their struggles, including those related to societal burdens. When employees don't fear judgment or repercussions for expressing their needs, they're more likely to seek help within the organisation. This fosters trust and enables them to channel their energy into their work, maximising their discretionary effort. Without psychological safety, employees may hesitate to bring their full selves to work, hindering innovation and overall performance.


Amy Edmondson's book, The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, argues that psychological safety, where employees feel comfortable taking risks and admitting mistakes, is crucial for innovation and high performance. Engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond, as demonstrated by Gallup studies.


Research consistently links employee well-being with discretionary effort. However, headlines often highlight trends like 'quiet quitting' and 'work your wage,' suggesting a disconnect between employee potential and actual contribution.


Yet, a proactive approach exists. Organisations can unlock untapped potential by investing in employee well-being and creating a supportive environment. This isn't just about placating employees but creating a win-win situation. When employees feel valued and supported, they're more likely to be engaged, innovative, and productive. This combats the underlying reasons for employee disengagement and fosters a culture where discretionary effort thrives.


Though specific details remain confidential, I benefited from a flexible work arrangement during a previous period of personal transition. This allowed me to focus on recovery, freeing up mental space and enhancing my ability to contribute effectively. Such support aligns with the findings of the Academy of Management Journal study on autonomy and discretionary effort. However, genuine and comprehensive support from the organisation is crucial for effectiveness.


Don't wait for your employees to "quiet quit." Invest in their well-being by creating a supportive environment that addresses societal burdens and fosters psychological safety. Conduct surveys or focus groups to understand your employees' needs and develop targeted programmes that empower them to bring their whole selves to work. Doing so will unlock a more engaged, innovative, and productive workforce, harnessing their untapped potential to drive success.


 

Let's keep the conversation going! Share your thoughts and experiences with inclusive language in the comments below.


Let's Amplify This Message!

Your commitment matters. Share this article widely and use #happyday to connect with others passionate about this cause. Together, we can transform workplaces and create a more just society for everyone.


Ready to Take the Next Step?

My 25+ years of leadership and advocacy experience are available to you. Contact me at cynthiafortlage@cynthiafortlage.com to support your organisation's inclusivity journey.


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