Can you imagine being at work, sat in an office full of colleagues you know and respect – but feeling lonely and isolated?
For a large proportion of the UK’s five million working-age people with hearing loss this is their daily reality. In our latest survey, 65% of people with hearing loss said they felt isolated at work and 47% felt lonely.
Not surprising, then that 79% went on to say that their hearing loss made work more stressful.
But what about the huge cost to the employer? The new report from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, Combating loneliness one conversation at a time, presents some shocking statistics, including the finding that loneliness costs businesses £2.5bn a year through the harm it does to workers or the people they care for. The Commission found that the costs mount up from lost days, low productivity and high staff turnover.
“Loneliness costs businesses £2.5bn a year”
The Jo Cox Commission is clear that tackling loneliness needs action across society – it’s not the sole responsibility of leaders and employers – but business leaders do need to create and nurture ‘connection-friendly’ environments.
So, what do these findings mean for employers who do want to make sure that staff with hearing loss are genuinely integrated into their workplace?
First, they must encourage employees to disclose their hearing loss, indeed all disabilities – and create the environment and culture that allows this to happen.
Around half of the people we surveyed said they’d hidden their hearing loss from people at work. Obviously, no employer can provide the right support if they’re completely in the dark. Communication needs to start at the recruitment stage – with candidates asked whether they need any support or adjustments.
“Half the people we surveyed said they’d hidden their hearing loss from people at work”
Employers must also make the small, simple adjustments necessary to accommodate the needs of people with hearing loss. Many of these cost nothing. For example, letting someone move their desk to face colleagues, or making sure meeting rooms are well-lit so employees can lipread.
Some adjustments do cost money, such as providing a hearing loop or a listening device such as a Roger Pen – but when these are classified as more than a ‘reasonable adjustment’, the cost can be met, in full or in part, by the government’s Access to Work scheme.
Another essential for a connection-friendly work environment is staff who are deaf aware. It makes business sense for companies to offer staff deaf awareness training. If employees can’t communicate with colleagues with hearing loss then they can’t communicate with the 11 million UK consumers with hearing loss. Deaf awareness training incorporates simple, commonsense tips, such as speaking one at a time in meetings – and taking care not to obstruct your mouth if a colleague or customer is lipreading you.
The Jo Cox Commission depicts clearly the interdependence between workplaces and loneliness – something that is exacerbated by hearing loss. Employers need to create the connection-friendly environments to unlock the true potential of their workforce.