Hearing loss is an issue that is growing in prevalence, particularly in the workplace. In fact, 60% of those affected by hearing loss are part of the American workforce, which means there is a great need for hearing loss education and services among working people. When hearing loss is properly addressed, it has positive impact on the whole workplace from employees who experience it firsthand, to improved efficiency and communication overall.
There are steps both employees and employers can take to proactively address hearing health and promote a healthier and happier workplace. Having access to hearing healthcare services is crucial, as many working people look to their employer when seeking healthcare options. It's also important to have educational resources to make the workplace more inclusive, with techniques colleagues can easily adapt to and use among co-workers.
Employees with Hearing Loss
For those with hearing loss, there are treatment options available that can improve performance in the workplace and beyond. Receiving hearing loss treatment can improve quality of life, increase energy, and help individuals connect with colleagues, clients, friends, and family. They can also help to conserve the hearing that remains. While hearing loss treatment can improve an individual's ability to perform well and be an active part in the workplace, many employees may struggle with finding the proper resources to improve their hearing, like having access to a hearing healthcare professional or medical coverage that covers hearing aids and treatment.
For employees who have hearing loss and would like access to more comprehensive hearing healthcare, their current employer may be able to provide better access to services. Employees should talk with their employer about which hearing services are provided through the company healthcare plan and which they qualify for. Employers can also assist with vocational rehabilitation, which may provide hearing loss treatment and techniques for navigating a hearing workplace. Information about vocational rehabilitation available in your area can typically be found online.
Employees may also consider hearing aids as a way to better their hearing and add assistance in the workplace. Hearing aids can benefit many individuals with hearing loss and can be discussed with your doctor. There are a variety of devices that fit different budgets and lifestyles. If you are concerned about the cost of hearing aids, ask your provider about a payment plan or financial assistance, and discuss the company health plan with your employer to see if the plan has hearing device coverage. Veterans may also qualify for assistance through the local VA.
Many workplace settings can be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. Some settings may be loud or chaotic, which makes communication difficult. If your hearing loss makes the work environment more challenging, discuss your needs with your employer and co-workers. Offering productive adjustments, like talking in-person instead of over the phone, or reducing workspace noise, will improve communication and make the workplace more productive for everyone. While employers may offer education for colleagues and adjustments to make the workplace more inclusive, providing feedback directly to the employer from employees experiencing hearing loss will create the most supportive workplace for that individual.
How Employers Can Help
Unaddressed hearing loss in the workplace offers challenges to all employees and employers, no matter the field or profession. Providing an inclusive work environment ensures that communication, energy, efficiency, and productivity are maintained at high levels. Employers can provide support and services to those with hearing loss through the company healthcare policy, fulfilling all legal obligations to provide an accommodating work environment, and creating a supportive work space for all employees.
Most employers offer some form of healthcare to all employees, but ensuring that there is some hearing-specific coverage will help your employees with hearing loss maintain access to the specialists and care they need to manage their hearing loss symptoms. Including a secondary plan specifically for hearing healthcare, like the EarQ Family Hearing Plan will offer all employees discounts for hearing services and hearing aids. This will not only help the employee, but also the families of employees, to establish better communication, increased energy, and increased productivity in the workplace and beyond.
Within the workplace, employers need to provide an equal opportunity for all employees legally. When it comes to hearing loss, an equal opportunity workplace may include adapting some guidelines for all staff to accommodate those with hearing loss. Employers can work with employees to create a statement outlining how to work effectively and cooperatively. Employers should also provide a supportive workspace which may mean offering quieter workstations to reduce extra office noise.
When approaching the topic of hearing loss in the workplace, it's important to focus on the benefits to workspace changes and both how and why these adjustments are best for increasing productivity and communication. For example, if it's easier to hold discussions in a central location or specific room so those with hearing loss can follow the meeting more clearly, communicate this change to employees. This will allow conversations to be more productive, and clarifies why these changes should be enforced and embraced.
What Colleagues Can Do
Colleagues should be educated on different aspects of hearing health and how to make the workplace more open for those with hearing loss. Teaching techniques for colleagues to use when working with co-workers who have hearing loss can make the environment more inclusive without drawing attention to hearing loss or making those who need adjustments feel singled out. Colleagues can make simple adjustments to their daily work life which will become common practice the more they are used.
It's best to practice speaking clearly and precisely. Many people try to communicate with individuals with hearing loss by speaking louder and slower, but that doesn't always help. Speaking clearly and facing the individual with hearing loss is most helpful. It's common for individuals with hearing loss to use lip reading to fill in gaps during a conversation, and seeing the face of those they're talking to makes it easier to understand. The workplace often involves phone calls to discuss issues or make plans. When making phone calls, try to keep them short and recap key points at the end to ensure your co-worker understood the whole conversation.
Colleagues can also make some personal adjustments in the workplace to make it quieter and more productive for everyone. Keeping office noise down, especially background noise like personal music or conversations can help make the space more accommodating. If conversations are occurring in close quarters, be mindful of the noise. It may be beneficial to take longer or more detailed conversations to a separate space to reduce background noise. Colleagues should always treat co-workers with respect and support the tools anyone needs in order to have a successful workplace.
What to Do Next
By being aware of hearing loss in the workplace, employees, colleagues, and employers can all contribute to making an inclusive and supportive workplace environment. Employees experiencing hearing loss can feel comfortable and included, which increases overall communication, productivity, health, and happiness.
To make hearing health a priority at your job, the first step you can take is to make sure employees and colleagues have access to hearing healthcare services in the workplace.