Thursday, September 2, 2010

Assisting Employees with Hearing Loss

By Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D.

Question: What can organizations do to plan for and address the impact of employee hearing loss?

Answer: Employers can take a number of simple steps to educate employees about hearing loss and to facilitate the use of hearing aids, where needed.

In a 2009 survey of 46,000 U.S. households, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) determined that over the past generation hearing loss grew at 160 percent of the U.S. population growth— primarily attributable to the aging of the American population. Yet the study found that 60 percent of people with hearing loss are below retirement age, meaning that 16.3 million people with hearing loss were in the U.S. workforce in 2010.

Previous research at BHI has shown that 50 percent of people with untreated hearing loss have never had their hearing checked by a professional and lack sufficient information to know whether they need to take action to correct it. Human resource professionals can help employees understand if they need treatment by:

Educating employees on the impact of untreated hearing loss on quality of life.

Encouraging employees to take valid online hearing tests such as the five-minute hearing evaluation offered by BHI.

Encouraging local hearing health professionals to conduct on-site hearing screenings.

In many cases hearing aids can help protect employees from being at a competitive disadvantage with peers. Organizations can encourage the use of hearing aids, when needed, by ensuring that health insurance covers such devices and by recommending that employees purchase hearing aids using pretax medical flexible spending account funds.

In addition, employers can:
  • Create a corporate climate where hearing loss is recognized so those with hidden hearing loss feel more comfortable.
  • Avoid noisy restaurants as meeting locations. 
  • Summarize meeting minutes in writing to be sure that those with hearing issues are clear on the outcome of the meeting.
  • Provide easy accommodations, such as moving an employee's desk away from noisy hallways, machines, or air conditioning and heating vents, or installing a phone that amplifies high frequencies.
  • Build work environments that facilitate better hearing by choosing cubicles with noise-absorbent materials and equipping meeting rooms with an inductive loop that creates a wireless zone for hearing aids with telecoils, headsets or microphones.
By encouraging employees to treat hidden hearing loss rather than hide it, an employer creates a win-win situation by ensuring that the loss of hearing does not interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, or the employee’s career or quality of life on or off the job.

Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., is executive director of the Better Hearing Institute, a not-for-profit that educates the public about hearing loss, prevention and treatment.

Reprinted from: The Society for Human Resource Management (

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