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Untreated hearing loss in the workplace

Posted on June 5, 2024
Woman and Man having a business meeting

You may think hearing loss only affects your personal relationships because you can’t hear those conversations correctly. But think again.  

Untreated hearing loss in the workplace is a serious concern. Not only are your interpersonal relationships with coworkers affected but there’s economic impact to the business with risk of accident, errors, absences and delays. And income is generally less for people with untreated hearing impairment as well as their confidence taking a hit.

Both occupational performance and well-being are affected by leaving hearing loss untreated.

Can you hear your coworkers?

The relationship with your coworkers is different than that with family members and friends. While family and friends may put great efforts into protecting you from any embarrassment and stress of untreated hearing loss, there’s no guarantee your coworkers are willing to put in that work.

Research has shown stress at work is much higher when there’s untreated hearing loss than for those with unimpaired hearing.

Guessing what coworkers are saying, puzzling out instructions given verbally, and constantly asking people to repeat themselves all come with consequences to the workplace. The risk of inaccuracy and inefficiency in communication in the workplace not only creates anxiety for the person with hearing loss, but can also cause accidents, delays and errors. When you add the fatigue experienced from constantly puzzling out verbal communication – well, we all know the danger of fatigue in the workplace.

In the absence of coworkers knowing about the hearing impairment, being asked to repeat themselves can easily be interpreted as you’re just not listening. That alone can put stress on a relationship, personal or work.

Economic consequences of untreated hearing loss

There’s a consistent pattern of underemployment for those with untreated hearing impairment in worldwide research. Those with untreated hearing loss are making approximately 25 per cent less than their ‘normal’ hearing counterparts. That’s a substantial amount of compensation particularly when you consider those with untreated hearing loss are often in lower paying jobs. The difference in the compensation increases as the level of hearing loss increases.

Research has suggested some of the inequity in compensation is because those with untreated hearing loss believe they’re less able to do the job. They also hesitate to apply for work that requires good verbal communication to protect themselves from embarrassment.

As research has connected untreated hearing loss with several health issues, it’s no surprise people with untreated hearing loss experience more job absences than their unimpaired counterparts. These additional absences also impact the compensation of the person and the effectiveness of the workplace.

Are you an employer?

Making sure your staff with hearing loss get the treatment they need is a terrific step both for the health of your business and the well-being of your staff.

When you consider the potential economic impacts (untreated hearing loss costs Canada around $20 billion a year), there’s some sense in ensuring your employees have financial support to get the treatment they need for their hearing impairment. Often health benefit plans, particularly for small business, have limited coverage for hearing aids making them out of reach for some. Speak with your benefits provider to see what’s available to support your staff.

By supporting access to hearing aids, you not only get a more efficient and effective staff but you may increase loyalty to your business because you’ve demonstrated you care about your employees’ well-being.

First step

For employers, the first step is to encourage hearing testing for your employees. If your business is in a high-risk industry where loud noise is part of an employee’s environment, it’s even more important to advocate for regular hearing testing. The earlier hearing loss is discovered, the better the chance of slowing down the decline. Supporting your employees’ hearing loss, no matter whether the loss is a result of your work environment or one of the many other things that can cause hearing loss, is good for your business.

If you’re an employee experiencing the symptoms of hearing loss, get a hearing test. Hearing loss can come from many sources, not just aging. Loud noise, illness, ototoxic medication, even genetics. There’s no shame in sharing with your coworkers that you may need them to repeat themselves while you figure out your next steps when hearing loss is discovered. Advocate with your employer for support to get hearing aids when they’re prescribed.

At Hear Well Be Well, hearing tests are free.


Shield, Bridget. Hearing Loss – Numbers and Costs, EVALUATION OF THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC COSTS OF HEARING IMPAIRMENT. A report for Hear-It AISBL Published in 2019

Jung D, Bhattacharyya N. Association of hearing loss with decreased employment and income among adults in the United States. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2012 Dec;121(12):771-5. doi: 10.1177/000348941212101201. PMID: 23342548.