Managing hearing loss in the workplace is not always easy. It takes confidence, which can be elusive for many people, especially in the early days of hearing loss. It certainly was for me.
At HLAA’s Convention 2022, I spoke on a panel entitled: Hearing Loss, Workplace Inclusion and Career Success. There are many topics related to successfully managing hearing loss in the workplace, but I focused my talk on disclosure. Should you disclose? When? How?
I hoped the attendees might learn from my mistakes.
I Wish I Had Disclosed My Hearing Loss Sooner
I first noticed my hearing loss in mid-20s but my hearing loss journey started well before watching my father struggle with his own hearing issues. He was highly stigmatized by it and would do almost anything to keep it a secret, even growing his hair long over his ears well after it was fashionable. So, when I first discovered my own hearing loss, I hid it, following in his footsteps.
Especially at work.
Before my hearing loss advocacy work, I spent 20 years in the finance and consulting industries. For most of that time, my hearing loss was a secret. I told only my closest colleagues, but even then, I don’t think they really understood how difficult it was for me to hear in certain situations. I downplayed it so I wouldn’t look weak or ineffective. Looking back, I wish I had been more open.
Why You Should Disclose Your Hearing Loss at Work
For all the years I worked in the financial industry, I wore hearing aids. And because of them, I performed well at my job and even got promoted. Why then, didn’t I disclose my hearing loss? Did I think that my achievements would be erased because I had done all of them with small technological assistants in my ears? With hindsight, my worries seem rather silly.
Does this mean that everyone should disclose their hearing loss at work? In most cases, I believe the answer is “Yes.” And here is why.
1. Strong performance speaks for itself
If you have an existing track record of good performance in your role, disclosing your hearing issues will not change your hard-won reputation. Assuming your hearing issues are not new, your strong work will continue, and perhaps improve with the added benefit of disclosure.
2. Possibility of easy fixes
Disclosing your hearing loss allows for accommodation. A different seating arrangement at meetings or a better conference room speakerphone might make you an even more productive worker. Coming clean allows you to ask for the assistance you need and to be less fearful when asking for a repeat or clarification.
3. Authenticity is rewarded
Once I began disclosing my hearing issues, I was amazed how many people made confession of their own. Sharing my vulnerabilities allowed others to do the same, boosting morale for everyone.
4. Less stress
Depending on the degree of your hearing loss, your co-workers may already suspect you have a hearing problem or worse, they may think you are not smart or are a poor listener. When people know you have a hearing loss, it relieves the pressure of having to hear everything perfectly.
5. Times are changing
Millennials and subsequent generations are more comfortable with disabilities. Many of their peers used accommodations on tests for learning differences. This was not stigmatized but instead seen as a normal pattern of behavior. They carried this view into the workplace.
6. The law is on our side
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with hearing loss, as long as it does not cause “undue hardship” which is defined as significant difficulty or expense. Reasonable accommodations could include things like captioned phones, assistive listening devices, or work area adjustments like a change in seating location. Step one is asking for the help that we need.
How to Disclose Your Hearing Loss at Work
Hopefully by now you are convinced that you should let your colleagues know about your hearing loss. But how do you do it? Follow three simple steps.
1. Disclose with confidence
There is no need to apologize or feel guilty about your hearing loss. Speak with confidence and others will see that your job performance will not be negatively impacted. If your colleagues are worried about your ability to do your job, point to your existing track record as evidence of your abilities.
2. Ask specifically for what need
Letting others know about your hearing loss is just informing them of a fact. The more important bit is letting them know what you need from them to enhance communication. Do your research in advance so you can make suggestions, such as using ASR captions for all Zoom calls or choosing a better seating arrangement for in-person meetings.
3. Express gratitude
Good team work is to be appreciated. Be sure to thank your colleagues for the communication assistance they provide. And they will thank you for including them in your success.
Once you disclose, you can spend your energy on performing well at your job rather than keeping unnecessary secrets. And what a relief that is.
For more Workplace Hearing Hacks, read Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss.
Readers, do you disclose your hearing loss at work?