I’m having hearing difficulties at work – what can I do?
As hearing loss can develop slowly over time, it can take years before you realise the effect that it’s having on your home and work life.
If your hearing isn’t what it used to be, at work you might find that you:
- struggle to follow what people say during meetings
- often ask colleagues to repeat what they say
- often misunderstand what is being said
- find it hard to understand speech over the telephone
- avoid socialising with colleagues
- often get confused about which direction sound is coming from.
If you’re experiencing difficulties like this, and haven’t yet been diagnosed with hearing loss, don’t put off getting your hearing tested. Research shows that the sooner you get help with your hearing loss, the less impact it will have on your life.
You can speak to your GP about your hearing loss or, as a first step, take our quick and easy Hearing Check. This isn’t a full hearing test, but it will indicate whether your hearing is in the normal range or if you should have further tests. You can take the test over the telephone on 0844 800 3838 (local rate) or take our hearing check online.
The benefit of taking the Hearing Check is that, if it does suggest you have a hearing loss, we’ll send you a statement of the results that you can take along to your GP – this might make it easier for you to get a referral to a hearing specialist for further tests.
Once your hearing loss has been confirmed, tell your employer, so they can help you get the support and equipment you need at work.
How do I tell my employer about my hearing loss?
It’s best to speak to your manager about your hearing loss, at a time and in a place you’re comfortable with. Explain how your hearing loss affects what you can hear, and the effect it’s having at work.
Your manager should explain your employer’s policy for supporting people with a disability or health condition, and what the next steps are for making sure you get the support you need.
If you find that your manager isn’t supportive, or responds badly to your hearing loss, follow our steps for resolving the issue.
How do I know what support and equipment could help me at work?
The best way to find out what could help you to manage your hearing loss at work and fulfil your potential is to ask your employer for a work-based assessment. This is where a specialist visits you at work to assess what simple adjustments, equipment and support you could benefit from. They will then produce a report containing their recommendations for your employer.
Work-based assessments are normally provided by the government scheme Access to Work , but they are also available from specialist providers such as Action on Hearing Loss . The assessment and the costs for the support and equipment you need can often be paid for through Access to Work.
What different types of support and equipment are available?
There are different types of support and equipment that could help you in the workplace:
While hearing aids don’t reverse hearing loss, they can be a great help. They should make sounds loud enough for you to hear at a comfortable level and make conversation easier to follow. You can get digital hearing aids and batteries for free from the NHS, or you can buy them privately. Your audiologist (hearing specialist) will let you know whether hearing aids could help you.
To find out more, see our leaflet 'Getting Hearing Aids'.
There’s a wide range of equipment that can help you to hear more clearly at work and alert you to alarms, such as:
- listening equipment, including personal listeners and hearing loop and infrared systems (these help you to hear over background noise)
- amplified telephones and textphones
- flashing-light fire alarms.
Find out more about what specialist equipment may help you in our ‘Products and equipment’ section and in our leaflet Products to help with hearing loss and tinnitus.
If you need support to communicate in meetings or take notes at work, there’s a range of services that can help. You shouldn’t have to pay for this support.
If you struggle to follow what’s being said in a large meeting and are comfortable reading English, a speech-to-text reporter (STTR) might be helpful. An STTR types every word that’s spoken and the text appears on a laptop screen, or one large screen or more if several people are using the service.
If you find you lipread to follow speech, you may benefit from a professional notetaker, who can take notes during meetings while you lipread (you can’t do both at the same time!).
Find out more about STTRs, notetakers and other types of communication support.
Deaf awareness training
It’s important that your colleagues know how they can support you – for example, by facing you when they speak to you, and speaking clearly, one person at a time. We offer a variety of courses to help workplaces become inclusive of people with hearing loss – if you think that your workplace may benefit from one, mention it to your manager.
Find out more about our training courses.
What are my rights at work as an employee with hearing loss?
The Equality Act 2010 is the law that bans discrimination (unfair treatment) and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society. The Act applies to England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, where the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) still applies.
Under the Equality Act 2010 (or the DDA), employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments (changes) for people who have hearing loss, so that they are not put at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ in work, compared with people who are hearing.
Reasonable adjustments could include:
- Adjusting the layout of a meeting room and using good lighting to help everybody see each other clearly (important for lipreading).
- Modifying a job to take your needs into account.
- Moving you to an office with good acoustics (where sound is transmitted well).
- Providing communication support for meetings, such as speech-to-text reporters.
- Installing equipment, such as amplified telephones or flashing-light fire alarms.
- Providing a portable hearing loop for you to use during a training course away from the office.
- Giving you time off work for your audiology appointments.
If you have a relatively minor hearing loss and it doesn’t affect your day-to-day life, it’s unlikely that you’ll be protected by the Act. But if your hearing loss has a substantial effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, you’ll be protected.
If you are covered by the Act, you’ll also be protected against different kinds of unlawful behaviour. These are called discrimination (including the failure to make reasonable adjustments), harassment and victimisation. To find out more, see our factsheet The Equality Act 2010 – your rights as an employee.
You can also find more information on the Equality Act in a dedicated section of our website.
What is the Access to Work scheme?
The Government’s Access to Work scheme provides a grant to pay for practical support and specialist equipment in the workplace for people who have a disability or health condition – it could fund the adjustments and support you need in work. Access to Work is provided where an individual’s support needs or adaptations are beyond the reasonable adjustments that an employer is legally obliged to provide under the Equality Act.
Find out how Access to Work might be able to help you.