How hearing loss impacts workplace well-being

Drs. Sarah Granberg and Johanna Gustafsson reviewed the literature on working life in relation to hearing loss. Learn what the last 20 years of research revealed.

“Workplace Well-being relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization.”

– International Labour Organization, 2020 1

Impact of modern working life on workplace well-being

Modern working life has become more complex with changing working conditions for workers and leadership. New tasks and new requirements are added where everyone is expected to prioritize, get the work done, be able to adapt to changing conditions, and at the same time, ensure individual recovery and well-being.

Given that these requirements to a high extent demands individual flexibility and interpersonal skills, it puts high pressure on workers to adhere to these norms.2 This matter may be even harder for workers with hearing loss than for others, due to an individual need for a hearing-adapted work situation which may clash with the idea of flexibility.

In the future, other trends in the working life, such as digitalization and ‘gig-work’ (i.e., working in projects and other non-permanent employments), will place even more demands on flexibility and communications skills, not to mention the demands on cognitive ability that digital meetings require (ibid).

Traditionally, however, mainly the physical, organizational, and psychosocial dimensions of the work environment have been addressed, while, for example, the cognitive work environment has not received as much attention.

Do we know how hearing loss impacts workplace well-being?

Simply answered, no. In a scoping review of well-being in working life in relation to hearing loss,3 it was concluded that the area of working life in relation to hearing loss have been scarcely investigated during the past 20 years.

With the definition of workplace well-being by the International Labour Organization1 as a conceptual framework and a starting point, hearing loss and working life were investigated.

When summarizing the conducted research in the area, three main themes were identified:

  1. Individual aspects (perceived problems in working life, strategies to manage working life and health)
  2. Work environment (physical, organizational and social working life)
  3. Work organization (division of labor and employment status)

It was concluded that many studies on hearing loss and working life lacked an intersectional perspective.

Why is this ‘lacking perspective’ a problem?

This matter is problematic because the working life is segregated regarding gender, age, and educational level. Consequently, to keep up with the premises of the modern working life, intersectional aspects must be addressed also in the area of hearing loss and working life to a higher extent than has been done in previous years.

In line with that conclusion, it was highlighted that the included papers were to a high extent addressed from a hearing loss perceptive, failing to incorporate theories and research that addresses the complexity of the working life.

This is problematic because individuals with hearing loss in the working life is part of something ‘bigger’, and this ‘bigger’ need to be considered when highlighting problems in the working life that the target group experience.

Are we doing enough and what can we do better?

I don’t believe so. This loss of hearing loss perspective can impact working life well-being of those with hearing loss. For example, it was concluded that adults with hearing loss seem to be scarcely part of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. This matter is very interesting given the complexity of working life with the high demands related to hearing loss (e.g., communication and cognition). 

What can we do better? The creation of VR-services for adults with hearing loss who utilize oral communication as first communication mode must be considered and is an important area to further investigate.

To learn more on this topic, I invite you to read our full paper in International Journal of Audiology.

References:

1. International Labour Organization (2020). Workplace well-being.  Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/safework/areasofwork/workplace-health-promotion-and-well-being/WCMS_118396/lang–en/index.htm, accessed November 8, 2021.

2. Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise (2020). Framtidens arbetsmiljö – trender, digitalisering och anställningsformer. [The future work environment – trends, digitalization and forms of employment]. Kunskapssammanställning 2020:3. [Review of knowledge 2020:3]. Stockholm: Myndigheten för arbetsmiljökunskap

3. Sarah Granberg & Johanna Gustafsson (2021): Key findings about hearing loss in the working-life: a scoping review from a well-being perspective, International Journal of Audiology, DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2021.1881628

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