Your Hearing Matters

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Dealing with work life

Dealing with work life

If you are one of the millions of working age Britons who have hearing loss, you may have to contend with a variety of challenges at work. Your exact needs will depend on both your particular type of hearing loss and the environment in which you work.

What you do also has a bearing on how well you can perform with hearing loss. If your job means lots of time on the phone, dealing face-to-face with the public or attending meetings and presentations, you might experience more difficulty than someone sitting in a quiet office whose job involves mainly reading and typing.

But wherever you work and whatever you do, you almost certainly need to communicate well with your colleagues and be sure you have understood decisions, requests, instructions and so on. To be comfortable at work, you need to take a similar approach to adapting your home life: talk to people about your hearing loss and work out what could be done to ensure you can carry on working productively and feel comfortable during meetings for example.

Watch the video below to see how others with hearing loss have identified and dealt with issues in the workplace

Telling your employer

Many people are reluctant to mention their hearing loss at work, often because of fears that it may damage their prospects. Recent research reports the common workplace experiences of others with hearing loss and aspects where increased awareness is needed.

If your hearing loss is affecting your ability to cope at work, you have rights and your employer has a responsibility to try to improve your work situation. If you don’t tell your employer, then matters will only get worse. Given that many bosses seem to be in the dark about hearing loss and the help available to support you, it’s a good idea to know your rights and what can be done before you raise the subject.

How to talk to your employer

How to talk to your employer

For most people, the best approach initially is to have an informal chat with their supervisor, manager or human resources department, explaining the problems hearing loss is causing and asking what could be done. Many organisations will have processes to provide support and the first conversation may be enough to get the ball rolling.

If, however, the response is less helpful, you should point out that under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people with hearing loss.

The changes under ‘reasonable adjustments’ can include things like:

  • Installing equipment such as an amplified telephone, providing a specialised headset, or fitting a flashing-light fire alarm.
  • Adjusting office or meeting room layouts, or letting you move to a different office or workstation to give you the best position for hearing and seeing everybody clearly.
  • Changing the way your job is done to take your needs into account.
  • Providing you with communication support for meetings.
  • Providing portable listening devices if you need to attend meetings away from your base.
  • Giving you time off work for audiology appointments.

You can ask your employer for a workplace assessment, where a specialist visits you at work and recommends what adjustments, support and equipment could help you. Workplace assessments can be through the Access to Work scheme or from some other providers.

You can apply for support through Access to Work – your employer will then be contacted. They may have to contribute to the costs of any support provided. You may not be eligible for an Access to Work grant if you already receive certain other benefits.

“Access to Work have helped me so much. Each time I have changed my job Access to Work have provided me with a workplace assessment and through this I have been provided with the equipment I needed – for example, telephones that stream to my hearing aids and a personal listener to enable me to hear in meetings. There is so much technology out there designed to make your working life so much easier and Access to Work specialists will know what to recommend” - Amanda

If you feel you aren’t being treated fairly at work, there are further steps you can take. See Citizens Advice work information for details and advice.

Educate your colleagues

“I’ve had hearing loss all my working life. The best advice I have to give as a result is don’t hide your hearing loss because this will cause you a lot of stress and people will notice anyway. You’ve got to be assertive and educate your colleagues about how they can support you and they will respect you for that.” – Jo

Be open with those you routinely interact with at work. Explain your hearing loss and the things they can do to make communication between you easier.

Tips to ease communication at work include things like:

  • Asking colleagues to come and talk face-to-face rather than phoning you
  • Asking them to ensure they have your attention before they start talking.
  • Getting them to approach you so you can see them rather than coming up from behind and startling you with a tap on the shoulder.
  • Ensuring you get the agenda in advance so that you can familiarise yourself with any unfamiliar topics and terminology
  • Explaining why you need to sit in a particular spot in meetings
  • Asking speakers in meetings to try to avoid talking when they are facing away from you, such as when they turn to write on a board or point at a screen.
  • In meetings, ask people to speak one at a time and to speak up. Get the Chair person to remind everyone of this.
  • People quickly forget good practice so have the courage to tell people that you cannot hear because they are not communicating clearly. If you use a personal listener, it’s worth explaining to colleagues what they do as this can help people understand better how to easily communicate with you.
  • Remember you shouldn’t be afraid to ask someone to not cover their face when they are talking to you.

Make the effort to stay engaged

Make the effort to stay engaged

Isolation at work is one of the bigger risks faced by people with hearing loss. Keeping up with general workplace gossip can be difficult and you may feel that the social activities that take place around work are too much effort.

But, as with your general social life, withdrawing can be the start of downward spiral. If you stop attending events or joining conversations, people may eventually stop inviting or including you which can cause you problems with your mental and physical health. Think about the locations and event types that you enjoy and feel comfortable in and arrange them yourself, or if you have a social organiser at work ask your social team to organise these on your behalf.

One barrier making it difficult to remain engaged at work can be fatigue. Mild hearing loss can mean you're straining to hear whether you notice it or not and over a working day this can leave you tired and irritable. Try to build short breaks into your day where you can have quiet time to refresh you and allow you to stay focused. That way your work will be more manageable and you’re more likely to feel able to take part in work social events at the end of the day.

“With time, I have found a way to live with my hearing loss. I still enjoy quiet activities like going for a walk best; I believe when the only sounds you are hearing are the sounds of nature, it is very therapeutic and brings a sense of calm. Relaxation in all its forms is crucial; for me, listening can and often is, very stressful and tiring; every hearing moment requires concentration, conscious or subconscious.” - Sarah

Work and hearing loss

More about work and hearing loss

Many of the assistive devices like those you might use to make life easier at home are available for the workplace and there are many designed specifically for work situations.

Action on Hearing Loss has information on products to help at work and on different types of support in the workplace.

The government-funded Fit for Work website has information on how employers can support staff with hearing loss.

Living well – out and about

Home and work are two key areas where you need to adapt to keep life on an even keel. In the next module we look at some solutions to challenges you might face while you are out and about.

Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.