Getting it right for hearing
Getting it right for hearing

The workplace is not an easy place to be when you have hearing loss. Noisy offices, poor acoustics, meeting rooms without microphones or hearing loops, poor sound quality on voice calls, and colleagues who don’t speak clearly …  These issues and more are impacting on well-being and productivity in workplaces.

Now a survey by TotalJobs suggests that one in four deaf workers have left a job because of discrimination.

The Total Jobs research also found:

62% have faced discrimination from colleagues

53%  had experienced it from management

37% have experienced discrimination as early as the interview stage

Telling it as it is

At Ideas for Ears, we have gathered a great many insights over the last year or so.  I have reported on some of this in a previous blog.  But here I share a small selection of comments made to us by office workers to help illustrate the challenges that exist in workplaces.

These are challenges that people with no hearing loss can also face. Clearly, an opportunity exists for employers to boost productivity and well-being by addressing the hearing-related issues that are impacting on a significant proportion of their staff.  Discrimination on the grounds of hearing ability is not the way to go at all.

Here are a few of the things office workers have told us [comments lifted from written feedback]: 

1.It is difficult to hold the thread of what is going on when you have a conference call with 8 or more people and a poor quality of line.  When you add varying accents and abilities with the English language it can be quite a test.

2.Often the noise in the office can give me a headache and I feel frustrated.

3.Being in meetings 4-6 hours a day with at least 80% of these teleconferences or mobile conversations, it’s very important to have good quality connection and quiet background – both are equally a rarity!

4.Need to raise awareness amongst colleagues that whilst some chat in open plan areas is OK they need to be aware of impacts on others’ ability to concentrate

5.I often struggle to concentrate due to the open plan nature of the office I work in – if people are on the phone nearby I can be easily distracted and this makes it difficult to concentrate on my tasks or make phone calls.

6.People have a response to not hearing which is to get louder, which I believe compounds the problem. I think that open plan offices create some issues around general levels of noise that have not been thought out or taken account of.

7.I experience issues with hearing on teleconferences on a fairly regular basis

8.I am so bombarded with noise, it drains me.

9.What i need is hearing loops in meeting rooms but despite constant lobbying none of our meeting rooms have working loops enabled. There is also another issue which is that even when there are loops enabled often nobody in the organisation knows how they work and whether our hearing aids are enabled to use that particular type of loop. Very little if any thought goes into this kind of equipment except in places specifically designed for hearing impaired people.

10.The tearoom is actually the place with the worst acoustics, which prevent staff with hearing difficulties from using it. It is all hard surfaces and angles – sound baffles were left out due to cost constraints.

11.We use video-conferencing a lot, and rooms are often badly set up so it’s difficult to follow everyone. Phone meetings also have very varying volume for participants from different locations. Phone and v-c are impossible for people who lipread primarily.

12.If noise levels are too high in my office I sometimes get distracted and miss comments on calls/meetings and do not want to ask the presenter to repeat themselves.  If the person I am speaking to on the telephone has high levels of background noise I find it difficult to focus and hear exactly what they are saying.

13.Some people struggle in an open plan environment & I wish my manager was more accommodating to others feelings.

14.Some individuals have little understanding of their impact on others – talking loudly in the office, impacts hearing aid wearers and others

15.When in a group I have to concentrate really hard to hear what is being said.

16.Teleconferences are often used over VC due to a) availability of technology, b) sound quality, but this means that all visual cues are lost which is not helpful. Both availability and quality prevent it from being as effective a tool as it should be.

17.The ability to not have distracting sounds, mostly other peoples telephone conversations and air conditioning units. sound screens may help or a less open plan office although as we do not have assigned desks each location has its shortcomings and the solutions to these may be different.  wireless noise cancelling earphones from which you can accept telephone calls would reduce the background noise.

18.video conference calls are poor quality, sound transmission through the phone is poor and difficult for me to follow, also due to the acoustics of the room.

19.I sometimes find teleconferences difficult, particularly from other offices where the rooms used at the other end can sometimes be very echo-y resulting in poor sound clarity.  I find concentration is difficult when others are attending teleconferences from their desks as the volume and a patterns of speech seem louder and more disruptive then normal calls.

20. Calls to colleagues from other parts of the world mean I struggle with accent and poor phone line.

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