Listening in the workplace

New Website on Indigenous employment issues related to hearing loss


Adults can have permanent hearing loss and auditory processing problems as a result of middle ear disease when they were children. These hearing problems can play an important part in people's social relationships, emotional well-being and occupational opportunities. They can contribute to poor self-confidence, anxiety, problems with relationships and issues that affect their performance at work.

A new resource 'Supporting employees with hearing loss - a guide for supervisors and mentors'  provides useful information to help minimise occupational disadvantage that is often associated with hearing loss - see resources to purchase resource.

Some other information on these topics is contained in these articles that can be downloaded.

The trouble with strangers outlines how it can be hard for people to meet new people. Controlling the chaos describes how some people with listening difficulties try to control their environment. Work talk outlines experiences at work of people with listening difficulties.

The high proportion of people with listening problems in the Aboriginal, Maori and Pacific Island communities contributes to the extent of social and economic disadvantage among these population groups. In part, this happens because listening difficulties can add to other difficulties with cross-cultural communication. There is a cycle of disadvantage whereby the social determinants of poor ear health contribute to the high levels of middle ear disease that are associated conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss then contributes in turn to the poor social outcomes that result in poor ear heath.

 In 2005 we completed a study into the impact of hearing loss on emplpyment (Howard, D. (2005). Indigenous new apprentices' hearing impairment and its impact on their participation and retention in new apprenticeships. Darwin, Australia: Phoenix Consulting)This study found that functional listening problems were associated with performance and social problems in the workplace and concluded that poor employment outcomes were not only affected by the functional listening problems but also by:
  • the strategies the apprentices used to cope with their listening problems and failure to seek clarification when they did not understand things;
  • the attitudes of supervisors and peers when apprentices failed to understand what they had been told and their use of avoidance as a coping strategy, despite their failure to understand what they had been told, when the attitudes of others were negative; and
  • the extent to which listening skills were relevant to the work of an apprentice. For example, project work where each new task requires a new explanation presents more listening challenges than work that is routine. So does work that, once mastered, presents listening demands, such as phone reception work. This is particularly difficult for those with listening problems?

This study indicated that widespread hearing loss among Aboriginal adults does impact on Aboriginal employment outcomes. However, improving employment outcomes is not a simple matter of fitting hearing aids;in any case many Aboriginal people have levels of hearing loss that hearing aids will not help, even though the loss impacts on them occupationally. Solutions involve, firstly increasing the understanding and communications skills of others in the workplace, especially supervisors. Judgements made about people's capacity and motivation because of their difficulties listening prompt people with listening problems to be reluctant to ask for clarification of what has not been understood. Secondly, designing work tasks around people's listening difficulties is important as is improving the communicative skills of people with listening difficulties. Phoenix consulting is currently working with Group Training Northern Territory on a Commonwealth funded project (DEST) in this area.


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