Audiology Expert & Founder
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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