Hearing loss in the workplace
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), of the 15% of Americans who report some degree of hearing loss, about 60 percent are either in the workplace or an educational setting.
Hearing loss can require a little extra work, but it shouldn’t decrease your productivity or place any additional stress on your day. Most inconveniences stem from a misunderstanding, so open communication is key for effective relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak clearly, or to look at you while they’re talking. Small changes to your work environment can keep the office running smoothly.
If you have hearing loss, and especially if you recently discovered your hearing impairment, you might need to give your coworkers and your boss a few tips on how to best communicate with you. If you’ve recently gone through a job change, there’s a good chance your new colleagues have not been exposed to hearing loss before. Once you make someone aware of your condition, you can both successfully work around it.
Hearing loss and employment
Employers in the U.S. are legally obligated to provide an equal opportunity workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including for employees with hearing loss. Workplace changes can include providing assistive listening devices and making other accommodations that smooth out any communication hurdles. Find out more about your rights in relation to ADA guidelines and regulations for the hearing impaired.
Resources from HLAA
HLAA has put together several fantastic resources for employees with hearing loss, including a very thorough employment toolkit that covers just about every issue an employee with hearing loss might encounter.
Federal resources on working with hearing loss
The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has detailed guidance on deafness and hearing impairments in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Wearing hearing aids at work
Hearing aids work exceptionally well for most people with mild to moderate hearing loss. If you're new to hearing aids, keep in mind it may take time to adjust to them in different settings, including at your job. Unlike eyeglasses, hearing aids require a "ramp-up" process to full-time wear that can take a few weeks.
If you've given it a couple of months, and you are still having trouble adapting to wearing hearing aids in the workplace, consult your audiologist for advice. She may be able to program the settings to work better for your typical working conditions, and she can be an excellent resource for recommending assistive listening devices (below).
Assistive listening devices in the workplace
In an office setting, you may find that you need extra help beyond what your hearing aids can provide. Utilizing assistive listening devices can help bridge the gap.
Hearing loss and workplace comunication tips
You can do your part by letting your coworkers know some good ways to communicate with you in person. For starters, those with hearing loss tend to do better in person than over the phone, so when it’s possible, ask they come to your office instead of dialing your extension. That way, you can use context clues like lip reading, facial expressions and body language as an aid in conversation. (During the pandemic, when social distancing is important, an email or chat window might be preferable to a phone or Zoom call, unless it's captioned.)
If an in-person visit is necessary, ask them to walk your line of sight if you aren’t responding to their attempts to get your attention. It’s less startling to see someone walk up to you than it is to be tapped on the back. In meetings and boardrooms, ask that they try not to speak when facing away from you, as in when they’re writing out bullet points on the dry-erase board. Talking while a person’s back is turned to you projects the person’s voice against the wall, making it difficult to understand even if you’re sitting close to the speaker.
Open-layout cubicles are not always conducive to people with hearing loss, because there is a lot of activity going on that can distract you from your work. Trying to have a phone conversation the same time as your coworker in the cubicle next to you is difficult enough with normal hearing. Ask to be put in a private office with a door, if available. This way you can shut out the noise and focus on your work, making you a more efficient and productive employee.
How to help a coworker who has hearing loss
Even if you aren’t the boss, you can still help create a positive workplace environment when deaf or hard-of-hearing coworkers are present:
Hearing loss due to work?
If you believe you've lost your hearing due to workplace conditions, see our pages on OSHA and hearing loss and workers' comp benefits for hearing loss. Work is one of the most common places people will be exposed to harmful levels of noise, which puts them at risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). OSHA has a set of workers' rights meant to protect people from harm, including hearing loss.
Get help if you can't hear at work
If your struggling to hear at work, have your hearing evaluated by a hearing healthcare professional. If you have hearing loss that can be treated with hearing aids, buy the ones that fit your lifestyle and budget. If you are unable to afford the technology you need: