Hearing loss in the workplace

May 27, 2013 Kristiina Huckabay, AuD, FAAA

Hearing loss is a term that many associate with an aging population. For some it may trigger memories of large, obvious and obtrusive hearing aids or devices that squealed!  This is not the reality in 2013.  A look at the individuals I see every day as an audiologist reveals a large number of employed professionals who are encountering difficulty in work environments.  From telephone work to conference and lunch meetings, hearing loss is impacting our workforce.

The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans between the ages of 45-64 years of age experience hearing loss.  The prevalence of hearing loss increases with age and with an aging workforce that includes many working well into their 70s, it should be noted that the incidence of hearing loss increases to 1 in 3 for Americans between the ages of 65-74 years of age.  We now have a culture of employment that includes unique viewpoints from four generations working side by side.   Many of us are aware that intergenerational communication styles may vary.  It would behoove us to also consider hearing loss as we think about intergenerational communication in the workplace. 

Individuals who work in a quiet or solitary environment may “get by” with their hearing loss. However, most individuals will encounter much more complex listening environments at work. Imagine if you had hearing loss and were required to listen in the following environments:

  • Working in a cubicle environment where colleagues speak from behind or speak over/through walls.
  • Participating in conference calls and telephone calls in which there are no visual cues to supplement the speaker’s voice.
  • Participating in conference room meetings where distance can create a barrier in the ability to hear individuals around the table.
  • Listening to individuals with accented speech.  We value a diverse workplace and may be working with individuals with various accents which can reduce the redundancy of speech and create difficulty for individuals with hearing loss.
  • Listening to a colleague who speaks rapidly, which can degrade the speech signal and create difficulties for the individual with hearing loss.
  • Consider a counselor who works with patients who may speak quietly when sharing sensitive information.

These are not uncommon scenarios.  Hearing loss is not impacting only our retired and aging population.  It is impacting our working force and for some individuals, their livelihood depends on their ability to hear accurately.  Fortunately treatment through the use of hearing aids and assistive devices can improve speech understanding and greatly reduce the anxiety and fatigue that individual’s experience when they are not hearing well at work. As not only an employee but patient of Swedish, I hope that the individual who schedules my appointment, checks me in for a visit, or the nurse or physician who takes my history takes advantage of the assistive technologies available to clearly hear my concerns. 

If you are missing the sounds of your life and feeling ready to improve the quality of your life, call 206-215-1770 to schedule a hearing evaluation.  Or for more information that you can access online, click here.

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