Hearing loss in the working environment can be one of the most difficult situations you find yourself in, especially if you work in a fast paced office environment or in telesales. It can often lead to feelings of inadequacies or inferiority. I know when I first had my hearing loss, I really struggled with being at work.
With this in mind I thought I would write a blog this month about coping with tinnitus and/or hearing loss in the working environment as work is the place you spend most of your time during the week and is also one of the environments most fraught with obstacles for the hearing impaired.
Firstly, if you haven’t already informed your employer (especially if it is a recent loss) of your hearing impairment, sit down with them and discuss how your working environment will need to be changed; whether you will need to move desks so that your back is to the wall eliminating noise from behind, facing your team members or adjusting the position of your monitors so as not to disrupt your view of your colleagues sitting opposite you.
Secondly, I would recommend contacting Access to Work to see if there are any specific equipment that can assist you in your everyday role, for example, if your position is mostly telephone based there are options for amplified phones or text phones to make your life easier. There is a wealth of equipment designed to help the hearing impaired, make sure you can get access to this – it’s not only beneficial to you, but also to your employer.
Alternatively you can order these types of equipment yourself via the Connevans catalogue or contact Action on Hearing Loss who will be able to point you in the right direction. Connevans also offer assistive equipment for the home, whether for your telephone, TV, fire alarm or door bell.
A tip to those wearing Cochlear Implants, I find it easier to hear people, especially people I have never heard before, on my mobile phone rather than the landline. It might be worth asking your manager whether call forwarding to your mobile phone is an option.
If you work with a large team, it would be worthwhile speaking to them about how they can communicate with you, especially if you take regularly take part in large meetings etc. Let them know they will need to face you when speaking if you read lips, or if they are using power point displays maybe ask them to give you a print out before the meeting so you can familiarise yourself with what topics will be spoken about, this might enable you to pick up the odd word here and there. I was also informed by Access to Work about a speak to text relay service that can join in the meeting via Skype and type the conversations as they are happening to you on your laptop so you are kept up to date on who said what.
It might also be worth your while obtaining the minutes of any meetings afterwards so that you can read over them in case there is anything you have missed, not only does it show forward thinking on your behalf but it can also alleviate your concerns of missing any important information.
In regards to tinnitus, I find when the office is quiet my tinnitus gets really aggravated. For those who suffer from tinnitus without a significant hearing loss, you might consider wearing in ear headphones in one ear with low music on; music is widely believed to be a factor in reducing the effects of tinnitus.
For those with a significant/profound hearing loss with tinnitus, this would not be an option due to having to wear hearing aids or a CI all the time; however, you may be able to get some benefit from having a radio on with low music, just something to keep your brain from focusing on the tinnitus.
Another piece of advice, and one that I found really helpful is potentially altering your working hours. I found getting on the bus during the AM and PM rush hours extremely scary and exhausting. I spoke with my manager and he very kindly agreed that I could temporarily alter my working hours so that I would not have to travel during the rush hours; so instead of 9-5 I worked 7-3 which made my life a lot easier. I am now back to my regular hours since receiving my CI but I really did find this small change to my work life a massive help.
My last point of note; always speak to your manager/supervisor if you are not happy with your situation – it is in their benefit as well as yours to have a happy and healthy employee and there are many options that can be utilised without too much impact on others.
So a recap on the tips and advice I have picked up in the past two years;
- Speak to your manager/supervisor/HR team about your hearing loss and requirements.
- Adjust your work space to make it work for you; face the rest of the office with your back to the wall / adjust your monitor so it does not obstruct your view of others.
- Contact Access to Work or Action on Hearing Loss about specific equipment for the hearing impaired.
- Look into different communication methods with your colleagues.
- Listen to low and soft music to reduce tinnitus.
- Possibly alter your working hours if acceptable with your employer.
- Make sure you speak up if you are unhappy with your environment or find yourself unable to work.
I hope you find these tips and hints as useful as I have, as ever, if you want to ask me any questions or want me to blog about a specific aspect of hearing loss, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.