Hearing loss is often a non-visible disability. Many people feel there’s a stigma about being deaf or having hearing loss and hide it from their employer.
It’s vital to create an environment in which employees feel comfortable to be open about their disability.
Our 2023 report Hearing Loss at Work: employer insights found that disclosure of hearing loss in the workplace is a concern for employers, who find it difficult to quantify the scale of hidden hearing loss.
Many senior leaders we spoke to said it’s important to foster an open culture where you don’t shy away from talking about hearing loss.
Supporting someone with hearing loss doesn’t have to be difficult. Showing someone that you’re there to help is invaluable. Everyone with hearing loss is different and the assistance they need will vary from person to person.
Once an employee shares information about their condition with you, it’s OK to ask how their hearing loss affects what they can hear, and the effect it’s having at work. You can then work with your employee to discuss the support that’s available.
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Understand hearing loss
Over a quarter (27%) of operational managers who responded to our 2023 Hearing Loss at Work: employer insights survey said they did not feel knowledgeable about hearing loss.
Use the right terminology
Our research showed that employers are concerned about getting the language around hearing loss right.
Terms to use
These terms are generally accepted:
- ‘deaf people’
- ‘hearing loss’
- ‘hard of hearing’.
Terms to avoid
There are some terms that the communities we support have told us they prefer are not used:
- ‘hearing impaired’
- ‘the deaf’.
Like an individual’s experience of hearing loss, the terms with which they identify will vary. Our advice is simple: just ask.
The terms that staff members want other people to use to describe themselves can be added to their reasonable adjustment record for future reference.
You need to demonstrate that the culture and practices are in place to offer individuals the right support from get go. Ask candidates whether they require an adjustment during all phases of the recruitment process. However, you should not unnecessarily ask candidates about a disability during the recruitment phase.
Provide another opportunity for the candidate to tell you about a hearing loss (or other disability), and any support or adjustments that they require.
You could include a question in the offer of employment letter, or in any form new members of staff are required to fill out
Help new starters share
Offer new starters another opportunity to share information about their hearing loss or any other disability or health condition.
Outline the support available within the organisation. If applicable, mention this in an induction presentation or pack.
Make sure that the right adjustments are in place. Once the employee has started, it may become clearer what environmental adjustments are needed. For example, check with the employee that they’re comfortable with their work station and make sure there isn’t too much background noise.
For someone whose first language is sign language, keep in mind that lots of written induction documents may take them longer to read than other people.
Make sure a sign language interpreter is available to go through documents with them together.
The induction programme should be phased so that there’s not a mass of information at one go.
Give team members the opportunity to learn communication skills to support their new colleague – and other existing and future colleagues who may have hearing loss.
While in work
Continue to give staff opportunities to talk about their hearing loss throughout their working life. This is particularly relevant for those who develop hearing loss later in their career.
If someone has hearing loss, it’s important for them to get support at the earliest possible stage. If you offer health checks for your employees, then you should include a hearing check as part of this. Make it clear during these checks that your organisation is on hand to support anyone who gets a result that indicates possible hearing loss.
You could also take the opportunity to roll out our online hearing test along with some of our resources during company health and wellbeing days, or observance days such as World Hearing Day on 3rd March, or Deaf Awareness Week which is held in May each year.
Staff-led disability networks
Both new and existing staff may benefit from the opportunity to share experiences with others who have hearing loss, or other disabilities and health conditions.
Employee resource groups, such as disabled staff networks, can be a great way for colleagues with shared experiences to connect and discuss any issues that present a common barrier within the workplace.
Staff-led networks work best with senior management sponsorship and budget as needed, in order for the group to achieve its goals.
Lead by example
We’ve held roundtable sessions with senior leaders to gather insights. The sessions have highlighted how people in senior positions can use their platform to talk about their own hearing loss.
Many leaders we spoke to said they noticed that more employees were willing to share their own experiences of hearing loss after a senior leader openly discussed theirs.