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The challenges of hearing loss in the workplace and pathways to inclusive employment

Paul Harrison Hearing Aid UK Founder & Audiologist
Written By:
Paul Harrison

Audiology Expert & Founder

Updated: 11th September 2023
Hearing Loss at Work

Hearing Loss at Work

Understanding the impact of hearing loss in the workplace

 

Hearing loss can impact worklife

Sometimes considered an ‘invisible disability’, hearing loss can have significant implications and cause unforeseen problems for those affected by the condition, especially in the workplace. Due to the nature of hearing loss and being considered an ‘invisible’ impairment, it can be overlooked by both colleagues and those in management.

This oversight can lead to feelings of anxiety, loss of confidence and in some cases discrimination in the workplace.

This article explores, the challenges workers with hearing loss face and their subsequent negative impact, what we can do to support our colleagues and what accommodations management can implement to ensure an inclusive and safe environment and how this can benefit both workers and employees.

 

How many people have hearing loss in the UK?  Prevalence of hearing loss in the UK and employed population

First and foremost, it's crucial to acknowledge the widespread nature of hearing loss among employees in the UK. According to RNID (formerly known as Action on Hearing Loss) a leading charity and advocacy organisation for people with the condition, 1 in 8 adults of working age have hearing loss.

That translates to 5 million people of working age in the UK, potentially working whilst dealing with some degree of hearing loss. The number of people with hearing loss is also expected to rise to a staggering 14.2 million people by 2035.

It is important to recognise this is not an isolated issue facing a niche group of people but a common and pervasive condition a large portion of the population face.

 

A graphic showing 1 out of 8 people have hearing loss

 Employment Gap and Difficulties at Work

The financial impact of hearing loss

 

Employment gap concerns in the UK

However, despite the prevalence of hearing loss in the workforce, there is a concerning employment gap. Deaf individuals and those with hearing loss are statistically less likely to be employed when compared to the general population.

This disparity highlights the need for greater awareness, accessibility, and inclusive practices to ensure that individuals with hearing impairments have equal opportunities, without facing discrimination, for meaningful and gainful employment.

Hearing loss can limit earning potential and career advancement and have a notable financial impact, statistically resulting in lower-income households. Additionally, deaf people and those with hearing loss are overrepresented in lower status, lower-paid occupations. These factors can lead to financial stress for those affected.

Furthermore, the challenges associated with hearing loss may prompt some individuals to consider early retirement, affecting their overall financial stability. Addressing these financial consequences is vital for promoting equal opportunities and providing support to individuals with hearing loss in their professional lives.

 

The negative impact of hearing loss discrimination in the workplace and its consequences

What problems can hearing loss cause in the workplace?  The negative impact on individuals with hearing loss from this disparity stemming from deaf discrimination in the workplace can be vast. From economic and social consequences such as reduced financial independence, lower quality of life to a sense of exclusion, anxiety and depression.

According to RNID most people who are deaf or have hearing loss have felt stressed at work due to the condition. Although it is important to disclose hearing impairment, people worry they will be treated unfairly which leads to a loss of support and resources. 

Employees experiencing hearing loss may grapple with feelings of isolation, frustration, and diminished self-esteem. These emotional challenges can have cascading effects on mental health, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life, which can ultimately influence workplace performance and morale.

Additionally, good communication skills are regularly emphasised as a major requirement of employment, adding to the pressures in the workplace, as hearing loss can create significant difficulties in this aspect of professional life. Minor, everyday occurrences that workers without hearing loss take for granted can become significant obstacles.

For example, participating in meetings, receiving verbal instructions, engaging with clients and colleagues can all be impacted by hearing loss resulting in misunderstandings, decreased productivity, and heightened workplace stress.

  

Is Hearing Loss a Disability in the UK?

Is hearing loss covered by the Equality Act 2010?

 

Hearing loss at work and the law

If you are deaf or experiencing hearing loss, according to the Equality Act 2010, you may fall under the definition of disability. The Equality Act protects people in the workplace against unfair treatment. Consequently, this designation entitles you to equal access and equitable opportunities, ensuring that you are not subjected to discrimination. 

If you are deaf or have hearing loss or tinnitus that fits this definition, you will have rights under the Act, even if you don’t think of yourself as being disabled.

 

Access to Work - Information for employers and employees

There are resources available to assist in overcoming the challenge of hearing loss.  The Access to Work scheme is a UK government-funded program that provides support and financial assistance to individuals with disabilities or health conditions to help them overcome barriers they may face in the workplace.

The scheme is designed to promote equality and inclusion in employment by offering a range of support services and accommodations. This can include practical support, mental health at work and financial help to help with communication in job interviews, depending on the applicant's needs.

Employees and employers who could benefit from Access to Work do not necessarily know about the scheme, which offers aid in hearing impairment workplace needs. A 2018 survey suggested only a quarter of people who have heard about Access to Work are accessing the scheme.

 

Key features of the Access to Work scheme you may find helpful:

  • Financial support: Access to Work can provide financial support to cover the costs associated with disability-related workplace accommodations and support services, helping individuals with hearing loss access the necessary tools and services to perform their jobs effectively. 
  • Assessment and advice: The scheme offers personalised assessments and advice to determine the specific needs of each individual.
  • Support workers: Access to Work can provide funding for support workers, including sign language interpreters, personal care assistants, note-takers, and job coaches, depending on the individual's requirements.
  • Specialised equipment: Funding may be provided for specialised equipment such as screen readers, communication devices and assistive technology to enhance accessibility and job performance.
  • Adaptive software: Access to Work may fund adaptive software and technology solutions that enable individuals with disabilities to use computers and digital tools effectively.
  • Mental health support: The programme recognises that mental health conditions can also impact work performance and offers support for individuals dealing with these conditions.

 

Employers and employees can work together

Employers and employees can work together with Access to Work to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to accommodate the needs of individuals with hearing loss, making the workplace more inclusive and accessible.

The scheme plays a crucial role in helping people with disabilities overcome barriers to employment and maintain their jobs successfully. To access the scheme, individuals typically need to meet certain eligibility criteria related to their disability or health condition, be in paid employment or about to start a job and live in England, Scotland, or Wales. The level of support and funding provided may vary depending on individual circumstances.

Employers should note you shouldn’t ask employees about their hearing loss during a job interview. Once a successful candidate has been chosen any disability or health condition that could impact their work can be discussed.

Ideally, this discussion is encouraged as 54% of workers with hearing loss have avoided telling their employers, this could lead to missing out on vital aid and support available.

And remember, embracing disability inclusion is beneficial for all. Companies that actively promote disability inclusion have documented a remarkable 30% increase in profit margins compared to their counterparts.

 

A meeting at work

 Tips For Colleagues

How to make your workplace more inclusive

 

How to support a colleague with hearing loss at work:

There is plenty of support and resources for working with hearing-impaired employees, here is a list of tips to help support your colleague with hearing loss:

 

Hearing Aid UK's tips for supporting a colleague with hearing loss:

  • Make sure you have their attention before speaking.
  • If you need a longer chat find a quiet place with good lighting and no distractions.
  • Make sure when speaking you don’t accidentally cover your mouth.
  • Utilise visual aids such as presentations, slides, and written agendas during meetings to supplement verbal communication. These aids can provide valuable context and make it easier to follow the conversation.
  • Ask! – Even If they have a hearing aid is there anything else you can do to help them? For example, do they need to lipread? Then you can make small adjustments such as making sure you are fully facing them

 

For workers with hearing loss:  Coping with hearing loss at work

Effectively managing hearing loss in the workplace can seem daunting but there are plenty of small ways you can improve your situation. Here are some easy tips you can implement today:

  • When working in a busy environment consider sitting with your back to the wall to reduce background noise and distractions, and ensure you are well situated to pick up visual cues.
  • Stay Informed. Keep up with the latest advancements and accessories in hearing technology and assistive devices, as new tools are continually being developed to enhance the work experience for individuals with hearing loss. 
  • Raise awareness and educate your colleagues about hearing loss, its impact, and how they can support you in the workplace, this will better promote an environment of understanding and empathy.
  • Take plenty of breaks! Listening with hearing loss can be exhausting. If possible, schedule short breaks during the workday to rest and recharge your hearing abilities.

Remember that effective communication and coping strategies may vary depending on the type and degree of hearing loss and individual preferences. It's important to adapt these tips to your unique situation and work environment.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, hearing loss in the workplace is an important issue for a large portion of the population, with far-reaching implications. The challenges faced by individuals with hearing loss, often overlooked due to its 'invisible' nature, can result in feelings of anxiety, loss of confidence, and even discrimination in professional settings.

However, recognising, supporting, and accommodating colleagues with hearing loss can lead to a more inclusive and safe work environment. It is important to embrace awareness and take proactive measures, ensuring that no one is left behind.

By doing so, we foster an environment where individuals with hearing loss can reach their full potential, furthering their careers and contributing to overall workplace success.  

 

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Is your hearing loss affecting your work?

If you are struggling to understand colleagues during meetings or conversations or misinterpreting instructions or information due to unclear communication can be indicative of hearing impairment.  Therefore, it is beneficial to seek professional help as soon as you can.

If you've been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article or have noticed a change in your hearing, call us free on 0808 253 5120 to speak with one of our team.

►Read our article on how else hearing loss can affect our day to day lives

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Meet Paul Harrison, Audiology Expert & Founder

Managing Director & founder of Hearing Aid UK, with over 20 years of audiology experience and a member of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists Council (BSHAA) between 2015-2020.

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