Q: How can we make the workplace more inclusive for people with hearing loss?
A. One in eight people of working age have some form of hearing loss, yet there are many barriers to employees getting support to enable them to reach their potential.
People with hearing loss are more likely to face challenges at work and be at risk of early retirement.
A gradual decline in hearing can be hard to detect, which can lead to people creating negative coping mechanisms.
Over half of people with hearing loss do not disclose it at work, and miss out on the support they are entitled to.
Much more needs to be done to challenge the stigma and misconceptions around hearing loss, and normalise conversations in the workplace.
RNID’s 2023 Employer Insights report highlights a number of themes from business leaders and operational managers, which shows where change is most needed.
We found senior leaders are critical in role-modelling positive acceptance of hearing loss.
Leaders who talk openly about their own personal experience of hearing loss create a culture where staff feel safe to share their experiences and ask for the support they need.
People with hearing loss are more likely to work in lower-status, lower-paid roles.
Many are concerned that colleagues may consider them less competent, and that hearing loss may hold them back from more senior positions.
When senior leaders discuss their hearing loss, it sends a strong message that it need not be a barrier to career progression.
Our research found only 18% of line managers had received training on how to support or manage someone with hearing loss.
The majority of people who are deaf, or have a hearing loss or tinnitus, are happy to talk about their experience and will often have practical solutions.
These conversations should start at the earliest opportunity.
What employers can do
Support must be holistic and embedded at all levels. This will look different depending on the size and configuration of an organisation, but our suggestions for best practice are:
● Provide deaf awareness training for all staff
● Grow expertise in HR departments, so they can offer tailored advice and signposting
● Wellbeing initiatives and occupational health activities should include a focus on hearing loss
● Ensure line managers are confident managing staff who disclose hearing loss
● Share information about support through internal communication channels
● Roll out RNID’s online hearing check to help normalise conversations about hearing loss
● Ensure policies take account of hearing loss, including recruitment processes and guidance on accessibility for everyday practices like meetings
● Get buy-in from the top, particularly from senior leaders with hearing loss, to create a supportive culture
● Invite employee resource groups to host talks and invite expert speakers
● Consider not just the needs of your current workforce, but the changing demographics of your future workforce.
Teri Devine is associate director of inclusion and employment at RNID
This article appears in the September/October 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.