WASHINGTON, DC—The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging employers to include hearing health as part of their workplace wellness programs. Noting that June will be the fifth annual National Employee Wellness Month, the non-profit educational corporation points out that addressing hearing loss in the workplace is a smart business practice that benefits both employer and employee.
To facilitate timely hearing self-screenings for all American workers, BHI offers an online hearing check at www.hearingcheck.org, where anyone can quickly assess if they need a more comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.
As the median age of American workers goes up, BHI says that it is becoming increasingly important that hearing health become a workplace wellness priority. Unaddressed hearing loss is likely to affect job performance and earnings by limiting workers’ ability to communicate effectively; hampering interpersonal interactions; making it difficult for them to receive and interpret auditory information from computers, machines, and individuals; and posing a risk to their ability to hear sounds that signal hazards in the work environment. Fortunately, says BHI, hearing aids—as well as other appropriate treatments and workplace accommodations—can help significantly.
Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, and most of them are in the workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of workers 55 and older in the civilian labor force will increase by over 11 million from 2010 to 2020, a much faster growth rate than in the 25-54-year-old age group.
Neglecting hearing loss results in serious economic loss. A national BHI study found that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss. The aggregate yearly loss in income due to underemployment for people with untreated hearing loss is an estimated $176 billion. And the fiscal cost to society in unrealized federal taxes is an estimated $26 billion. This doesn’t even measure the impact that unaddressed hearing loss has on worker productivity and absenteeism.
Fortunately, notes BHI, which is the educational wing of the Hearing Industries Association, hearing loss is largely manageable if addressed properly. And the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. The BHI study found that the use of hearing aids reduced the risk of income loss dramatically—by 90% to 100% for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65% to 77% for those with severe to moderate loss. It also found that people with severe hearing loss who use hearing aids are nearly twice as likely to be employed as their peers who don’t.
HOW EMPLOYERS CAN HELP
More than half of U.S. employers have some type of wellness program. BHI points out that if companies include hearing checks in their wellness programs—and make hearing aids an employee benefit—they will encourage workers to treat hearing loss rather than hide it. Not only does this help the worker, but it also creates a work environment where employer and employee can work together to ensure that a worker’s hearing loss does not interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, quality of life, morale, opportunities, or success in the workplace.
A copy of “Assisting Employees with Hearing Loss” and information on hearing loss prevention can be found on BHI’s web site.