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This subject of earning less because of hearing loss is a growing concern and focus of mine for quite some time now and I felt the need to share some new statistics regarding this. Please note that there is help for those struggling in their current career positions and that a qualified hearing care professional can help you uncover these particular needs and develop a personal solution for you. At Hart Hearing Care, we can make a personal visit to your office and offer you a confidential, discreet hearing evaluation. Please feel free to contact us at 262-782-3400 to schedule your confidential corporate hearing evaluation. Below is an article recently published by the Better Hearing Institute.

Lisa M. Hart, BC-HIS

The Effects of an Untreated Hearing Loss on Workplace Compensation by Mark Ross, Ph.D.It has long been recognized that a hearing loss can have a pervasive and profound impact on the lives of both the affected individual and his or her family. In addition to making oral communication interactions more challenging, a hearing loss can also impact upon such diverse dimensions of the human condition as mental, emotional and physical well being, social skills, self-esteem, family relationships, as well as work and school performance. While not as obvious as communication problems, research studies and personal experiences over the years have amply demonstrated these other possible consequences of a hearing loss. We also know that many of these problems can be ameliorated with personal amplification – hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. This was convincingly demonstrated a few years ago in a classic study involving thousands of people commissioned by the National Council on the Aging. The study showed that people with treated hearing loss (i.e. hearing aids) were less socially isolated and more emotionally secure than a comparable group with untreated hearing losses. Furthermore, these positive effects were not only felt by the person with a hearing loss but were also apparent to family members while easing family tensions – demonstrating once again that a hearing loss is truly a family affair.
In addition to its effect on the psychosocial status and interpersonal communication, a hearing loss may also influence a person’s employment status. Most jobs in our society require some degree of interactive verbal communication; one must be able to communicate effectively with co-workers, the public, and most important, one’s supervisors. Any hindrance in that ability may interfere with the efficiency and accuracy of these communication exchanges and thus affect how well a job is performed. And this, in turn, may well influence the compensation that a person receives for the job he or she is doing. It can, for example, help determine how much people with a hearing loss are paid for a job or, indeed, whether they have a job at all. While there has been much written on this overall topic over the years – we already know, for example, that deaf people are too often underemployed and underpaid – but because of changing technology, social attitudes, and public law, the situation is ever evolving. It is helpful, therefore, to systematically update our information on the topic. Most importantly, it is necessary to determine if the use of amplification can mitigate the consequences of a hearing loss in the workplace. In a recent publication, Sergei Kochkin, Executive Director of the Better Hearing Institute, addressed this question.

Before proceeding, it is worth noting that this study focused on people currently in the workforce. This refutes the common stereotype that hearing loss only affects the elderly or those whose working days are long behind them. In point of fact, fully 60% of the people with hearing loss are either in the workforce or in educational settings. The study’s findings, therefore, are relevant to the majority of people with hearing loss who are presently employed, or who will soon be looking for a job (good luck!). The study examined the workplace compensation of three groups of people, those wearing aids (about 1800 of them), those with hearing losses (about 3000) but who were unamplified, and a large cohort of normally hearing people as controls. To ease the analysis, the respondents with hearing loss were broken into ten groups (termed deciles) depending upon the severity of hearing loss. Great care was taken to ensure a representative demographic sample from all areas of the country. Thus, the results present the best and most current knowledge we have regarding the economic status of people with hearing loss in the workforce.

One basic finding of the survey was the not unexpected observation that employment income is related to the degree of hearing loss. While the people with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to their normal-hearing peers, as the hearing loss increases, so does the reduction in compensation.. This decline is the most rapid and most apparent for the groups with the more severe hearing losses. The income level of the worst group (the tenth decile) was about $14,000 less than those earned by the group with the mildest hearing losses. This figure does not consider whether or not the person used hearing aids, just the effects of the hearing loss itself were taken into account. For an “invisible” handicap, it’s clear that a hearing loss can have some very “visible” consequences.

The key question in this study, however, was whether this effect can be ameliorated with amplification. The short answer is a resounding “yes” – ameliorated, but not completely overcome. The study compared the salary differential by the degree of hearing loss for both the aided and unaided groups compared to those with normal hearing. The results clearly demonstrate the economic advantages of a person with a hearing loss in using amplification on the job. While no advantage of amplification is seen for the decile with the mildest hearing loss, as the hearing loss increased so does the income gap between the groups. This gap between the groups widens with increasing hearing loss. Finally, for the group with the most severe hearing losses (10% of the total), the income differential between the aided and unaided groups reaches the rather astounding figure of $31,000 a year! This is how much fewer people with the most severe unaided hearing loss make compared to a comparable group of hearing aid users. This is clearly a horrendous and discouraging figure. But even for hearing aid users, it’s not as if the hearing loss has no effect. The results indicate that even with amplification, the group with the most severe hearing losses (10% of the total) still earns about $11, 000 less than their normal-hearing peers. In other words, while the gap can be narrowed with hearing aids, it was not completely overcome.

What we have learned so far is that a hearing loss has economic consequences, but that a hearing aid can ameliorate, but not completely overcome, these consequences. This is hardly a surprise, though one that is important to document as this study has. We’ve always known that a hearing aid does not replace normal hearing. Indeed, one of the myths we’ve had to confront over the years, probably from the time the first electronic hearing aid was used, was the myth that a hearing aid would “correct” a hearing loss in a somewhat comparable way that eyeglasses correct visual problems. Unfortunately, it just isn’t so. Particularly for the people with the most severe hearing loss, residual listening problems are still manifested in some circumstances. In short, a hearing aid is an aid – and one to be grateful for – but it is not a replacement normal ear.

The survey asked the respondents a number of additional questions regarding their experiences in the workplace. These questions concerned such topics as their perception of compensation compared to their normal-hearing peers of comparable training and education and whether they feel they have been passed over for a promotion because of their hearing loss. It turns out that only in the middle age unaided group (ages 45-64) did the respondents feel that they were being treated differently than their normal-hearing peers (specifically regarding compensation equity). This was not the case for those people of the same age group who wore hearing aids, offering additional evidence that hearing aids do help. We should keep in mind that these are general conclusions; anecdotally, we know of many individual exceptions.

In terms of employment status, the survey found that the unaided groups were unemployed at a higher rate than their aided peers and that in agreement with other results from the study, the disparity in employment status increased as the hearing loss became more severe. Unfortunately, this result does accord with numerous observations formed over the years; it does seem clear that people with severe hearing loss have extra difficulty in finding (but not necessarily holding) a job.

It should not be concluded from the foregoing, however, that hearing aids are some sort of magic pill, a panacea that will produce full employment equity with people with normal hearing. They are simply the first step, but a crucial one. If somebody with more than a mild hearing loss denies him or herself the potential benefits of personal amplification on the job, then as we have seen their wage status will likely be less than their aided peers. But as crucial as personal amplification is, it is often not enough. A particular job or function may make communication demands that exceed the capabilities of conventional hearing aids. Other forms of hearing assistive technologies (HAT) are often needed to meet this challenge.

Many do well in the workplace in spite of hearing impairment, but others find that their hearing problems affect their career and earning potential. Still, there seems to be a common reluctance to undergo hearing tests.

Difficulties functioning in the workplace and at home do not only result from severe hearing loss. People with mild or moderate hearing loss also experience problems. A study conducted among more than 450 Americans aged 41-60 years indicated that:

  • Almost one in four said their hearing loss is affecting their performance in the workplace
  • One in four said hearing loss is affecting their earning potential. The areas of their work most affected are hearing and understanding phone calls and conversations with co-workers.
  • 40 percent of the individuals who reported having a hearing loss said that it has affected their home life in a variety of ways, including difficulty in having conversations with loved ones.
  • 65 percent said they have trouble hearing the TV. Watching TV with others and social gatherings are the areas that Baby Boomers with hearing loss avoid most.
  • More than half of those with hearing loss said they often have difficulty hearing on a cell phone.

Hearing loss is a silent health issue, often overlooked and left unresolved. This survey illustrates how hearing loss is compromising the quality of life for millions across the country, as well as impacting their performance and productivity on the job. Individuals, businesses and the government must become more attuned to the seriousness of hearing loss in our society and the steps they can take to help improve the situation, said Suzanne Wyatt, executive director of The EAR Foundation. The study titled, Baby Boomer Hearing Loss Study was carried out for EAR and Clarity.

Few seek help

Many are reluctant to seek help in spite of their hearing problems. Little more than one-third of those suffering from hearing loss reported having had their hearing examined and tested. “Unlike when someone is losing their vision and they realize they can’t see as well as before, hearing loss can be blamed on others for not speaking clearly or setting the TV volume too low,” said Carsten Trads, president of Clarity, in a press release.