Inclusion | Why hidden disabilities should be on your HR agenda

Why hidden disabilities should be on your HR agenda
Hearing Loss

The list of items on your agenda is, no doubt, long and sprawling. Hearing loss is probably not one of your top of your priorities. In fact, it’s unlikely to feature on the list at all. However, there are a number of reasons why hearing loss should be on your radar – and it's not all down to ‘accessibility regulations’.  

5 reasons why hearing loss should be on your agenda

1. Hearing loss is something you will have to consider at some point. Of the 11 million people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss, 5 million are of working age. Currently, 42% of over-50-year-olds experience some form of hearing loss and this continues to increase significantly with age. With the state pension age set to increase to 66 for men and women in 2020, the number of older people in the workplace will rise. Addressing the accessibility requirements of your older employees will become increasingly important.

2. Failing to tackle hearing loss could mean losing your most experienced staff. The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is 57, so it’s clear that youth doesn’t always triumph over experience. Evidence shows that unsupported hearing loss can lead to early retirement, so in order to keep top talent and skills within your organisation, it’s worth catering to the needs of the baby boomer generation and getting to grips with the impacts of hearing loss. Nearly two-fifths of business leaders in the UK do not feel well-equipped to help staff with hearing loss to stay productive at work.

Firefighter Steve Mintern (pictured) lost his hearing overnight, and was supported by his employer to become the first firefighter in the UK to be a double hearing-aid wearer. Read Steve’s full story.

"My greatest fear was that I would no longer be able to be out there, fighting fires. When I came back to work, I had a meeting with my senior officer and he said: ‘So what do we need to do to get you back to work again?’. It wasn’t a problem.”

3. More and more organisations are upskilling themselves so that they can support staff with less visible disabilities such as mental health problems and autism – hearing loss is increasingly becoming part of this conversation. Major employers such as EY, RBS and HMRC  are now making hearing loss a priority. Joining them will ensure you stand out in an increasingly competitive recruitment climate as organisations battle it out to attract and retain the best talent from diverse backgrounds, including candidates with disabilities.

4. Hearing loss exists in your organisation – even if you don’t yet know it. Employees are reluctant to talk about their hearing loss. Research suggests that 54% of employees with hearing loss have put off telling their employer. So if you think that hearing loss doesn’t exist in your organisation, it may be time for a rethink. Organisations must develop a culture that encourages people with disabilities to bring their whole selves to work, so they are supported to fulfil their potential.

5.As an employer, you want to attract, recruit and retain the best talent that’s out there. Given the right support, people who are deaf or have hearing loss can carry out – and excel in – most jobs, so losing out on this wealth of potential talent just doesn't make business sense. By making your organisation attractive to and inclusive of people with hearing loss, you’ll be broadening your talent pool and enabling your staff to reach their full potential. 

What’s the solution?

Supporting employees with hearing loss isn’t difficult. From making simple changes to the workplace environment to giving regular opportunities for staff to speak openly about their disability, there are many simple ways to ensure candidates and staff who have hearing loss are supported and included. And there’s no need to fear the price tag of providing support – the government’s Access to Work scheme can help organisations to cover the cost of more expensive workplace adjustments such as the provision of communication support. 

National charity Action on Hearing Loss has launched an online Employers’ Hub covering all the bases on how to attract, recruit and retain talented employees who are deaf or have hearing loss. It’s full of useful guidance for HR professionals and managers, and includes a downloadable toolkit. Take a look at the hub before testing your knowledge by taking the charity’s Workplace Warrior quiz.

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