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Communication At Work | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

In Hearing Health by Kim Greive

Kim Greive

The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) dedicates a whole month each May for the past 75 years to raising awareness of communication problems such as hearing loss. The focus of this year is ‘Communication at Work.’ In keeping with this, we have chosen to share some suggestions on why it is important to tell others about your hearing loss at work.

Hearing loss: a rising problem for Baby Boomers

According to the Better Hearing Center, although hearing loss affects all ages, baby boomers constitute the most significant group affected, with one in six affected. “The undiscussed, untreated aspect of hearing loss in America is the boomers,” according to Carole Rogin, president of the Hearing Industries Association.

And more than half of the boomers are still on the job: the labor force in the first quarter of 2015 had about 45 million boomers, according to the Pew Research Center. This works out to more than 7 million boomers in the workforce with hearing loss, many of whom have not yet sought treatment. This number is expected to rise.

Why you should disclose your hearing loss at work

Contrary to what you might believe, if you have a hearing loss, it will be better for your career prospects to let your coworkers know about it. Here are some reasons why:

  1. You’ll get the support you need to be your best. Revealing your hearing loss means others will accommodate your needs. Under the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are allowed to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers with hearing loss, as long as it does not cause “undue hardship,” which is described as substantial hardship or cost. Reasonable modifications may include captioned telephones, assistive listening devices, or work environment adjustments, such as seat position changes. Being honest about your hearing loss means you can ask for the assistance you need and be less afraid to ask for a repeat or explanation from a coworker.
  2. You encourage honesty in others.  People who are honest about their hearing loss are still surprised by how others react with their own confessions. Sharing such unavoidable aspects of yourself will promote an atmosphere in which others will share their challenges too. This encourages emotional trust and strengthens morale for those involved.
  3. Work will be less stressful.  Depending on the level of your hearing loss, if you don’t let your colleagues know, they may think you’re not smart or a lousy listener. When people know you have a hearing loss, it takes off the pressure to hear everything correctly.
  4. Hearing loss is ‘NBD’ (no big deal). Millennials and subsequent generations are more familiar with medical conditions because they have been encouraged to accommodate them from an early age. As they have become of working age, they have carried this openness into the workplace. This kind of environment makes disclosing a hearing loss less of a big deal.

The best way to communicate your hearing loss at work

Now that we understand that disclosing your hearing loss is crucial at work, what is the most effective way to do it?

In 2015, 337 people with hearing loss were analyzed by Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers to understand the language they used to reveal their hearing loss. The researchers found that the way one decides to report hearing loss can have a considerable effect on how they deal with the condition. Here are the three main disclosure methods:

  • Non-disclosure: Non-disclosure is used to identify someone that does not report their hearing loss and disguises their condition using words that might be used by regular hearers. For instance: “I can’t hear you. Please speak up.” This approach keeps the condition a secret from others, which means no help is given to them in the workplace.
  • Basic Disclosure: Basic disclosers do a little better than non-disclosers and are often able to address their hearing loss. They might say things like, “I have a hearing loss and find it difficult to hear in noisy environments.” Basic disclosers get some help from coworkers and experience somewhat improved communication.
  • Multipurpose Disclosure: Compared to the other two approaches, multipurpose disclosure means not only drawing attention to one’s situation but also offering solutions for improved communication. They might say something like: “From this side, I don’t hear as well. Please talk to me on my left side.”

By using multipurpose disclosure methods, working individuals with hearing loss find their coworkers more helpful, compassionate, and able to tolerate hearing loss than before. This is why academics recommend it as the disclosure method of choice.