Your ability to hear is crucial throughout your day—whether talking to your family, hearing cars and other dangers when walking down the street, or when relaxing by listening to music or watching TV. However, with hearing loss, each of these becomes more difficult. Hearing loss can also be particularly detrimental at work.
Why hearing is so important
Think about all the conversations you have on a given day at your job with your boss, clients, or colleagues. But it’s not just other people’s voices—it’s the ringing phones, email notifications, meeting alerts, and other sounds that occur throughout the day. If you don’t have an office job, your ability to hear can be even more important. For instance, when working in a factory, sound can be integral to knowing you’re doing your job properly and alert you to potential danger or accidents
Harvey Patterson is one individual who experienced hearing loss at work. With a job as a machine tool designer (and a NASCAR pit mechanic in his free time), Harvey’s professional life exposed him to dangerous noise levels. This long-term exposure resulted in hearing loss and made his jobs much more difficult.
According to Harvey, “If a machine in the shop is not working properly, if you know the sounds you can hear that and stop it before something crashes. There’ve been times I haven’t heard those sounds.”
How hearing loss damages your career
It’s estimated that 48 million Americans have hearing loss, including 60 percent who are below retirement age, meaning they’re currently in the workforce or will be in the future. Without proper treatment, these individuals could be damaging their careers in several ways:
Increased safety risk
As Harvey demonstrates, hearing loss can make it difficult to catch the sounds critical to work performance. If your work involves heavy machinery or equipment that could be dangerous if mishandled, untreated hearing loss can pose significant risks to your own health and safety, as well as that of your coworkers and the public at large.
Hearing loss makes it difficult to understand work directions from your boss or requests from clients or colleagues, meaning you could miss important details and deadlines. Without clarity on your work assignments, they might not be completed appropriately. Such occurrences can diminish your on-the-job performance, making you seem uninterested in your job, or unqualified to do it effectively.
Lower income potential
Poor job performance means that your job security and earning potential may be at risk. People with hearing loss are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and earn less over the course of their careers. One study found a differential of more than $14,000 in annual income between people with mild and severe hearing loss, while another study reported people with hearing loss can earn up to $30,000 less than their hearing colleagues.
While on-the-job safety risks, work performance, and salary and job security are important, so is the social aspect of work. From the conversations that occur in the office kitchen to lunches with colleagues, not being able to hear those conversations can make you feel isolated and left out. Socializing with colleagues helps to build trust and camaraderie, which contribute to morale and a sense of team work. If you’re not a part of that, it can hurt your work performance and lower your job satisfaction.
Addressing hearing loss
While it can be difficult to admit to a problem like hearing loss, the effects of not addressing it can be drastic to your professional life (as well as your personal life). Recognizing the damage his hearing loss was doing to both, Harvey decided to have his hearing tested and get hearing aids—and immediately wished he had done so sooner.
If you’re like Harvey and notice you struggle to hear at work, you shouldn’t ignore it or dismiss your hearing loss as just a normal part of getting older. It can significantly affect all aspects of your career and make it difficult to perform well or even keep your job. Addressing hearing loss is a choice—you can either live with it, or do something to hear better. Your job may very well depend on it.
About Rebecca Herbig
Rebecca Herbig, Au.D., is Manager & Editor of Scientific Marketing for Sivantos USA. She previously spent five years with Sivantos (then Siemens Audiology Solutions) in Germany and prior to that worked as a clinical audiologist in northern Virginia. Rebecca earned her B.S. in Audiology from the University of Texas in Dallas and an Au.D. from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.