The 7-step action plan for improving your hearing in the workplace

New experiment replicates what it’s like to deal with hearing difficulties in the office.New experiment replicates what it’s like to deal with hearing difficulties in the office.
New experiment replicates what it’s like to deal with hearing difficulties in the office. | copyright
Workers were left stunned after taking part in a surprising experiment designed to replicate what it’s like to deal with hearing difficulties in the office.

The participants were fitted with specially moulded hearing plugs that partially blocked their ability to hear, before being put in everyday office situations to see how it impacted their ability to interact with others.

With the plugs blocking their ears, they were tested to see just how much of what was being said to them in office conversations they could make out.

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The experiment was carried out as part of Hidden Hearing’s Love Your Ears campaign to raise awareness of hearing issues in the workplace.

Struggling to hear

Medical broadcaster and GP Dr Hilary Jones was on set to witness the filmed social experiment in action.

He said: “Not being able to hear well in the office can dramatically impact the way you interact with others. It can affect your confidence and increase a sense of anxiety that then prevents you from going for that promotion and developing your career.

“This experiment showed how affected workers not only miss important details, their emotional health and behaviour can be negatively impacted, too.

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“Missing out on parts of the conversation made the volunteers feel insecure and they were surprised to notice that, as a result, they started to withdraw from taking part in conversations that were happening around them.”

The test comes as research found one in five workers struggle to hear everything said in important meetings and even believe their hearing problems have held them back at work.

Seeking professional help

A study of 2,000 employees found background noise (38 per cent), people mumbling (36 per cent) or speaking in a quiet voice (33 per cent) were a reason people struggled to make out what their colleagues were saying in meetings.

But just 41 per cent would be prepared to flag their difficulties during the meeting, with 40 per cent of those keeping it to themselves worried people would think they weren’t listening.

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While 37 per cent don’t want to seem rude and 29 per cent would simply be too embarrassed to ask someone to repeat themselves.

Struggling to keep up with conversations in work meetings made 28 per cent feel confused, with others admitting to feeling concerned (23 per cent), worried (20 per cent), shy (16 per cent) and even annoyed (17 per cent).

It also emerged that despite 21 per cent of those polled fearing their hearing difficulties have held them back at work, only 35 per cent have had things checked by a hearing or medical professional.

And 22 per cent said they either already have or think they may have hearing loss.

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Dr Hilary JonesDr Hilary Jones
Dr Hilary Jones

A supporting working environment

Dr Hilary said: “Hearing loss is much more common in the UK workforce than many people may realise. It affects 40 per cent of people aged over 50 and incidence among younger adults in their 30s and 40s is on the rise – one in eight people of working age have hearing loss.

“Far too many people are struggling to hear conversations at work and don’t talk openly about it.

This can have serious implications for workplace stress, staff wellbeing and productivity.

“It can also have an impact on earnings and careers, as people with hearing loss have been found to be paid less on average than the general population and retire earlier than need be.”

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Of those polled via OnePoll, 15 per cent admit to having had difficulty hearing a direct instruction from a manager.

Only 16 per cent claim they never have to ask someone to speak louder, or repeat themselves, while at work.

Meanwhile 61 per cent worry about their hearing at least some of the time, while 10 per cent are very much concerned.

And 30 per cent feel they work in an environment where health issues like hearing aren’t actively supported.

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Dr Hilary said small steps can improve hearing in the workplace, and is backing a 7-step action plan recommended in a new ‘Better Hearing at Work’ guide for employers and employees, published in support of the Love Your Ears campaign.

He said: “If you notice a change in your hearing, please don’t ignore it. Get your hearing tested and talk about it at work.”

Seven steps to improve your hearing in the workplace

  1. Encourage a psychologically safe work culture in your workplace, so people feel they can speak up and say when they can’t hear.
  2. Check that everyone on a video meeting or telephone conference call can hear everybody else clearly at the start of the conversation.
  3. In an open plan office, make sure that a person with hearing loss is given a desk with their back to the wall, so there’s no background noise behind them.
  4. Think about providing quiet rooms and smaller meeting spaces for open plan office users to use when they need to.
  5. Don’t turn away to write on a whiteboard during a presentation while you are talking.
  6. Be aware that people with hearing problems may need a bit of extra support and contact. In the early stages, and particularly if you don’t wear a hearing aid, it can be very tiring concentrating on what people are saying all day.
  7. Promote and consider providing hearing health check-ups and awareness sessions for all your staff as a workplace benefit. To get a free, online hearing test, click here.