Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your quality of life—it can also have a measurable effect on income.
According to recent studies, the number of people with hearing loss is increasing over time.
The projected number of people with hearing loss in the United States is estimated to grow from the current 44 million to over 73 million by 2060 with the vast majority of these individuals (62.4 million) aged sixty and older.
With the retirement age continuing to increase as well, this means more and more adults in the workplace will be dealing with some level of hearing loss.
The best way to prevent hearing loss from interfering with your ability to succeed at work is by understanding how to deal with the effects and having a plan for managing them.
The Link Between Hearing Loss and Income
In an article for Hearing Loss Magazine, audiologist Mark Ross observed that “Most jobs in our society require some degree of interactive verbal communication; one must be able to communicate effectively with co-workers, the public, and most important, one’s supervisors.” He goes on to say that interrupting the efficiency or reducing the accuracy of these communication exchanges with hearing loss can result in the perception that one is not performing their job to the highest level.
With job performance suffering, people with hearing loss may not get raises at the same level as those with no reduction in their ability to hear or be more likely to be unemployed. One study confirmed this connection in finding that, individuals with hearing loss had 1.58 times higher odds of low income (even when accounting for other variables like age, sex, and race).
Another study published in Annals of Otology found that the odds ratio of people with hearing loss being unemployed (or partially employed) versus those without was 2.2:1 meaning that those with hearing loss were statistically more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
Dealing with Hearing Loss at Work
Imagine this scenario: your boss doesn't know you have hearing loss and they ask you to do something while on a group conference call and you do not hear them. Later, when they ask you about the task you say you didn’t hear them.
Without knowing your specific circumstances, they might just assume you weren’t engaged in the meeting or just ignored them. However, if you have established ahead of time that you have hearing loss, not only is your boss more likely to be understanding in this sort of situation, there are disability laws that protect you. By speaking up first, if there's a communication breakdown, you've established there is a reason why.
Since the majority of people with hearing loss are either school-aged or below retirement age, there is a choice: one can either share with others that they do have hearing loss or try to hide it.
Trying to hide your hearing loss is an option but not one we recommend. Even though hearing loss is invisible, others will be able to tell especially if it is untreated.
By identifying with your hearing loss, or sharing this fact with others, you have a chance to improve your circumstances while communicating with others.
Techniques for Managing Hearing Loss
Just telling others that you have hearing loss isn’t enough. It is important to develop some self-advocacy skills around hearing loss and they’re different in the work environment than they might be at home.
One way that is helpful is to have a script you can follow. “Even if you are treating your hearing loss with hearing aids, other people may not know what to do with that information or how to best support you” Vibe Hearing audiologist Annie Duchen, AuD, CCC-A said. “People may just start speaking louder when talking to you which might not be what you need. Try telling people something like “I have hearing loss and it makes it harder for me to understand conversations in noisy places. Here’s what we need to do to fix that.” Some solutions in the workplace might be to have meetings in a quieter location like an office or conference room, with less people if possible. Consider choosing a place with brighter lighting, as facial cues greatly support understanding in noisy environments.
Another helpful step is to get in touch with your HR team to find out what accommodations are offered for someone with hearing loss. If you’re working in an office, you may have the opportunity to work in a quieter place, which could support things like better understanding while talking on the phone. It may also be possible to obtain written notes from meetings to ensure you didn’t miss any pertinent information or work assignments. If you’re working from home, using an effective noise-canceling headset can be extremely helpful. If it is an over the ear headset, it can be worn over Vibe hearing aids. It would also be helpful to have all calls with use of video, so you can utilize the facial cues of the other person. For big events, it is appropriate to request live captioning to support understanding.
The difference between whether hearing loss affects your income or not largely depends on taking initiative.
By identifying with your hearing loss and advocating for yourself, you will be empowered to get the accommodations you need, and you can be just as successful as your colleagues who may not have hearing loss.