By Elena Jacob

For gay, bisexual, and transgendered men and women everywhere, the decision to come out and be open about their personal life at work can be a big – and terrifying – one. This is especially true if they are living in one of the 29 states that have now laws to protect LGBT individuals in the work place, leading many to fear job termination if they decide to come out or are found out by a boss or co-worker. This kind of stress, though very real and justifiable, is unhealthy, for employees and the businesses that employ them.

While coming out at work can be a challenging decision to make, there are many benefits – both for employees and employers – to being out and honest at work. Here are five reasons that employers should work to create an inclusive culture where LGBT employees feel comfortable being open about their lives.

1. Employees can be Their “Whole Selves” at Work

When employees are free to come out at work and enter into a non-threatening, accepting environment, they get to experience the joy of being themselves, their whole selves, in their workplace. This is a luxury that many straight individuals take for granted, talking without a second thought about their boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, children, or grandchildren. For gays and lesbians who are still hiding their sexual orientation, even such little, idle talk about what you did over the weekend can become a stressful ordeal where every word has to be carefully selected so it doesn’t give you away.

This is not even to mention the amount of stress it causes a person to spend eight or more hours a day worrying about how they’re perceived, if they’ve slipped up, if they said something too revealing… Being oneself at work, while it can be frightening to contemplate, offers the freedom to relax and feel safe at work, which is a right that every individual should thoroughly enjoy.

Being out at work is also shown to strengthen relationships, with co-workers and with bosses, by allowing LGBT employees to be more more open, sharing day-to-day life, activities, and pastimes without the stress and worry of hiding very important aspects of their personalities. This, of course, is not true of every workplace, but for more accepting environments, coming out will primarily serve to life a huge weight off the shoulders of gay and lesbian employees.

2. Happier Employees are More Productive

For businesses, the importance of having an open and accepting work environment is not just the right thing to do, but it would most likely also serve to boost productivity and, thus, earnings.

When an employee is comfortable and happy at work, and not stressing over hiding personal details lest they face discrimination, they are much more efficient, on-task, hard-working, and dedicated. Imagine how much harder it would be to finish even a simple report if, in the back of your mind, deep, dark fears lurk about how you might be found out, shunned, tormented daily, or even fired. An employee who is constantly worrying about whether or not their co-workers would disown them as friends if they admitted to their sexual orientation is not going to do nearly as well on the job as if they are out and enjoying being accepted for who they are.

3. Increases Acceptance and Understanding

Perhaps the average gay man or woman isn’t thinking on the grand scale of boosting world-wide acceptance for gays when they contemplate coming out to their boss and colleagues. But – at least to a degree – that is the case. It is a well-established fact that most prejudices and discriminatory acts come from a lack of understanding or empathy. By being out at work, employees are not only helping themselves on a personal level, but also furthering the cause of creating LGBT inclusive workplaces everywhere – by being one more voice, one more point of awareness.

Maybe the idea of coming out “for the greater good” is a little unsettling, but every time someone stands up and proudly proclaims that they are gay and that it is not anything to be ashamed of, it not only helps straight individuals who may be naïve to the subject gain a better understanding and therefore a deeper acceptance, but it also helps reiterate to other LGBT individuals – some of whom might be still in the closet – that they’ll be accepted too. Hopefully, as time goes on, this attitude will be adopted by more and more people. For the moment, however, coming out at work is just another way to be proactive.

4. All Employees can Take Advantages of Work Benefits

Many companies, including half of the Fortune 500 companies, now offer some level of benefits such as health insurance to same-sex couples, just as they do for husbands and wives of their straight employees. Unless gay employees inform their boss of their situation, however, the company will not be aware of any possible dependents or beneficiaries, and so they will continue to go without those often crucial benefits.

This is, of course, far more likely to be the case if the company in question is gay-friendly. LGBT employees should research to see what kind of benefits are offered by their workplace – perhaps that will be yet another incentive to come out at work.

5. Gay Workers Who are Open and Honest Have Better Careers

This ties in well with how workers who are comfortable at work have stronger focus and thus produce greater results – gay and lesbian individuals who are out at work worry less about their personal lives impacting their careers negatively, and so have more time and energy to devote to working on furthering their careers. This leads to increased raises, greater chances of promotion, and more overall job satisfaction. Coming out at work might be a scary prospect, but it might also boost your career and help you achieve your dreams.

The decision to come out is a big one, and must be made by individuals after they carefully consider all the factors that influence their lives. It does not have to be an all-or-nothing deal, either – many LGBT individuals find that they are more comfortable coming out to one or two trusted co-workers, or just their manager or boss. If the notion of coming out to everyone seems daunting or even dangerous, LGBT individuals should try to find a smaller support group and work outward. There are plenty of places online to find support and guidance for coming out at work, and even telling one person can make you feel more accepted and welcome in your workplace.