Taking care of employees' mental wellbeing is good for business. In a recent study, international consultants, Deloitte, estimated that poor mental health costs UK employers £33bn-42bn each year.
Their research also looked at several organisations that had implemented workplace mental health interventions; they found that most showed a positive return on investment. And it's not simply a financial cost. As Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer highlight, in their recent review of mental health and employers, the human cost of poor mental health is also huge –– it can have a massive impact on the person experiencing it.
With the right support, hearing loss doesn’t have to equate to poor mental health. But someone with hearing loss who doesn’t get the support they need at work – coupled with poor awareness among colleagues and managers – could experience a negative impact on their wellbeing. Our recent survey showed that, of those respondents who said their employer hasn't made reasonable adjustments for their hearing loss, nearly all (89%) said they'd felt stressed at work because of their hearing loss.
There are five million people of working age with hearing loss in the UK and this number is set to rise as our workforce ages. It's more than likely, therefore, that some colleagues at your organisation have hearing loss – or will develop hearing loss in the future. So it's important to understand the possible impact of unsupported hearing loss on mental health.
Stigma and unsupported hearing loss
One reason that people don’t get the support they need is that they don't like to tell people about their hearing loss because of its stigma. In our survey, over half (54%) of respondents said they’ve put off telling their employer about their hearing loss. And, of these respondents, 60% did so because they thought colleagues would think they weren't competent at their job.
And our research suggests that, in some cases, they’re right to be worried. Nearly a fifth (18%) of survey respondents said that their employer has implied or suggested that they would be better off not continuing to work because of their hearing loss. Others have reported feeling bullied at work:
"When I got my first hearing aid…I got jokes about: 'he's wearing a new bluetooth headset' etc, which I found embarrassing and uncomfortable."
Fostering a supportive culture
It’s hardly surprising, then, that people aren't disclosing their hearing loss at work. But let’s get one thing clear: hearing loss needn’t be a barrier to people excelling in most jobs.
Employers must foster a workplace culture that embraces hearing loss. Workers need to feel that they can be open about asking for support with their hearing loss and then be able to get the support they need.
And providing support for someone doesn't have to be difficult. It costs nothing to make sure you have good communication skills and if equipment or communication support is needed (such as a sign language interpreter), help is at hand: organisations can use the government’s Access to Work scheme to help them support their staff.
How Action on Hearing Loss can help
Find out more about supporting employees with deafness and hearing loss, and get useful tips and resources, on our Employers' Hub.