8 Steps Employers Can Take to Support Latinx Employees in the Workplace

Oct 14, 2021

By Gabriela Nagy, PhD

In my recent blog post I discussed eight common mental health challenges affecting Latinx employees today. Among others, these include lack of representation, bias and microaggressions, code switching fatigue, barriers to mental health care, and the disproportional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx people.

The complex and compounding nature of all of these issues deeply impacts Latinx employees’ mental health, particularly if they feel a lack of employer support. However, there are actionable steps employers can take to make a significant difference in  ways that not only provide resources for Latinx employees, but also create a more equitable, welcoming organizational culture. Here are the eight steps to consider:

1. Increase representation in your workforce 

Recruiting and hiring a diverse pool of people is a multi-layered strategy that begins with a holistic perspective on what you want from job candidates. 

Holistically and intentionally review a candidate and seek to broaden the definition of what constitutes a ‘qualified applicant’. Traditional definitions of what makes a candidate successful can be limiting and lower potential for racial representation. For example, lived experience may be more relevant to a job than a specific degree or title, and requiring a certain degree could mean missing out on  truly stand-out and experienced employees.

Another key to inclusive recruitment and retention is ensuring salary equity across job functions, regardless of color or gender. This will make your company competitive in recruiting the best, most diverse talent. It’s also important to note that while intentional hiring is beneficial to increasing diversity, there should also be intentional support given to these new Latinx hires to avoid their burnout and the burden of representation.  

2. Provide mentorship to foster employee career advancement  

Latinx and other people of color are underrepresented in positions of power.  To truly have a diverse workforce across a company, employers must be able to provide mentorship and leadership training to their Latinx employees. This can help Latinx workers advance their careers and contribute to a more representation among  company leadership.  

Also, mentorship can help minimize or prevent imposter syndrome, an issue that many Latinx people experience in the workplace. Offering mentorship opportunities helps reinforce that  the company is invested in Latinx employees’ career success..

3. Give consistent positive feedback for good work 

When there’s lack of representation and minimal accountability for bias in a workplace, Latinx people can begin to internalize the idea that they don’t deserve to be there. This is imposter syndrome, which often affects high-achieving people who  are systematically and consistently receiving messages that the opposite is true.

Providing consistent, encouraging feedback about employee strengths and performance can help counteract any  feelings of being undervalued, misplaced, or unrecognized in the workplace. 

This doesn’t mean you should give Latinx employees special attention or overlook poor performance—in fact, it’s important to avoid tokenization—but positive reinforcement for high performers can mitigate lack of representation and boost retention efforts. This can  provide motivation and empowerment, help elevate employees’ voices, and inspire them to keep expanding their skill sets.

4. Create a bias-reporting mechanism in the workplace 

Retention may be an issue if Latinx employees face bias, discrimination, and/or microaggressions and there’s no established infrastructure for prevention or intervention in your company. Since people may fear retaliation for reporting discrimination, encourage employees to report these instances by affirming their safety and protection with your established policies and procedures. For example, you can outline how to file anonymous reports. Also, consider recurring, anonymous surveys that give you a “pulse check” on the workplace climate and take action where necessary.

For prevention, companies can implement bystander and upstander training to help employees understand what to do when witnessing prejudice or discrimination in the workplace. This allows all employees to be  more accountable in reducing bias, discrimination, and microaggressions–not just those who are impacted by it. 

5. Be aware of institutional betrayal

Government systems and institutions are not built to support diversity and inclusion, and often fail to support marginalized populations like BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) people and women. There is a long history of traditional institutions harming BIPOC people that continues today.. This is known as institutional betrayal, a term coined by psychology researcher Jennifer Freyd, PhD.

Changing these long-entrenched problems requires   participation from all levels of an organization, not just individual employees. Rather than relying on your Latinx employees to educate you on their needs, spend some time  researching and understanding the nuances of the Latinx community, particularly the mental health challenges many people in this community face.

6. Be flexible with return-to-office plans 

There have been reports of the mental health benefits of working from home due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Lower risk of contracting COVID-19
  • Reduced instances of discrimination, bias, and microaggressions
  • Lack of code-switching that felt requisite in the office
  • Easier ability to care for children and older loved ones

Survey employees to see how they feel about returning to in-office work and if continuing remote work or adopting a hybrid model would be helpful. Being understanding and flexible about why people may need more time off from work or why they prefer working from home will help create a more supportive workplace. 

7. Offer  comprehensive, culturally responsive mental health benefits

 

Implement support systems to ensure  employees can practice regular self-care. This includes access to providers who are trained to offer care that takes into consideration the background and experience of an individual, and adapts their treatment plan accordingly. 

Also, a mental health benefit should offer access to a diverse network of providers who can offer adequate representation for employees and, in some cases, care in their preferred or native language. This also eliminates some of the barriers to mental health support that can prevent Latinx people from getting needed care.

It’s also important for  employers to support requests for personal wellness days that give employees time to attend to their emotional ( not just physical) well-being.

8. Remember that sustainably improving mental health requires  systemic change

Mental health advice is often  tailored to the individual, emphasizing the role of self-care and personal resources, particularly amid the pandemic. While those individual efforts can be helpful, they also place the onus for mental well-being on employees who may already feel overwhelmed. 

If employers discuss self-care in a way that implies  an employee’s mental health is suffering because that person  isn’t “trying hard enough,” it can cause further harm. Improving employee mental health comes from cultural and structural changes, because it’s been shown that environment matters when it comes to a person’s mental wellbeing. 

There’s an old saying that if a fish is sick, you don’t treat the fish, you change the water. What’s happening in the waters of your workplace that might be considered unhealthy for employees of all backgrounds? You may be able to  improve  employee well-being with strategies like reducing workloads, compressing the work week to four days, allowing for alternative schedules, and other changes that make for a more supportive, inclusive environment. 

Steps like these can go a long way toward communicating to Latinx employees that you hear them, you value them, and you want to be an organization where they can thrive.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Gabriela Nagy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine and at the Duke University School of Nursing. Dr. Nagy received a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee prior to moving to Duke wherein she completed her pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral training. Dr. Nagy has two primary lines of research: First, she is a health disparities researcher whose recent work has focused starting to develop psychosocial interventions to reduce acculturative stress for Latinx immigrants. Second, she has led efforts to optimize learning methods in multicultural education.