Employers’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives often overlook employees with hearing issues, according to a recent survey of about 800 employees by TruHearing, a benefits platform for hearing health care in Draper, Utah.
Of the workers surveyed by TruHearing:
- 42% had some degree of hearing loss.
- 75% said their company did not provide hearing benefits.
- 53% said it was important or very important for companies to offer these benefits.
- 94% said it is at least somewhat important for employers to provide hearing benefits.
Cammie Taylor, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources for TruHearing, who was diagnosed with hearing loss in early adulthood, expressed concern that only 25% of respondents said their companies offered hearing benefits.
“In some respects, the survey results were exactly what we expected. [because] in this industry, we know firsthand that there is an unmet need for hearing healthcare benefits,” Taylor said. “In many other ways, however, it was shocking to see the large discrepancy in the percentage of employees who said they were offered to hear health care benefits versus demand.”
Why Hearing Benefits Matter
More than half of workers who reported hearing loss said they would have waited longer to get hearing aids if their company did not offer hearing benefits, the survey found. But nearly half of employees with treated hearing loss felt more included at work after wearing hearing aids.
“As DE&I initiatives continue to be prioritized when looking for jobs, it’s critical that companies provide offerings such as hearing benefits that help cultivate an inclusive environment so all employees feel prioritized and supported. “said Tommy Macdonald, CEO of TruHearing, in a statement. .
Almost all respondents to an earlier TruHearing study experienced significant difficulties in their work before wearing hearing aids. These challenges included the need for co-workers to repeat statements, often missing pieces of conversation, and general difficulty hearing others.
The Hearing Health Foundation found that:
- Untreated people with hearing loss may have difficulty finding employment.
- Untreated hearing loss is associated with lower income than people without hearing problems, with research indicating that untreated hearing loss can reduce a person’s annual income by up to $30,000.
- Adults with hearing loss are more likely to have lower educational attainment and be unemployed or underemployed compared to their non-hearing-impaired peers.
- Hearing aids have been shown to reduce the risk of loss of income by at least 90% for people with mild hearing loss and 65% to 77% for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.
“Those with untreated hearing loss also may not engage with their colleagues to the same degree as someone with normal hearing,” Taylor explained. “Because of the effort required to listen and the disappointment when they have difficulty hearing others, untreated employees with hearing loss often experience higher levels of stress, social isolation and fatigue, which eventually leads them to avoid social interactions altogether.”
Four ways businesses can make a difference
A thriving corporate culture is one that includes all workers. Being selective in your DE&I activities while failing to address other aspects of inclusion can create resentment among employees and deteriorate recruitment and retention efforts.
To support hearing-impaired workers, companies should:
Provide hearing coverage. Offering benefits, such as coverage for hearing aids or exams, is the easiest way for a company to support employees with hearing loss, cost is the biggest barrier to seeking hearing treatment and the Access to hearing coverage is the primary motivator for hearing loss treatment, Taylor said.
Have open discussions. Engaging in open and honest dialogue with team members to identify workplace challenges for people with all disabilities, including those who are hard of hearing, and ways to overcome them can create a more inclusive and healthy culture.
Train all employees. Talk to all staff about the challenges their hearing-impaired colleagues may face in the workplace. It can increase empathy at work, help reduce the stigma associated with hearing loss, and improve the overall work environment.
Adopt technological solutions. Promote video communication tools and enable captions during virtual meetings for the hearing impaired. Provide a written meeting agenda, share meeting notes, and record meetings regularly.
“Employers adopting DE&I can make a big difference by creating a culture of inclusion by openly discussing the needs of people with hearing loss and providing the financial support needed to seek treatment sooner,” Taylor added. “This investment will easily pay for itself through employee respect and loyalty, as well as increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs.”
It is also important to avoid devaluing these employees. Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said many companies underestimate the abilities of hard of hearing or deaf workers.
“Companies should give them a chance to excel in the workplace,” Rosenblum said. “Too often employers fail to recognize the intelligence and skills of deaf and hard of hearing employees simply because of the different ways they communicate.”
Discriminating against workers or applicants with hearing problems may also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Society for Human Resource Management offers resources to help employers better understand the ADA.