It's a problem the workplace has tried to ignore: hearing loss among the millions of boomers still on the job.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 45 million boomers — ages 51 to 70 — were in the labor force as of the first quarter of 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, by 2022, nearly a third of those ages 65 to 74 will be in the workforce.
But 1 in 6 boomers are affected by hearing loss, meaning an estimated 7 million boomers may struggle with hearing loss on the job.
How is the workplace going to cope with this? So far, by ignoring it. Very few workplaces offer accommodations for those with hearing loss.
For instance, company-wide meetings might be held in rooms equipped with hearing loops or with both an ASL interpreter and real-time captioning. Few businesses provide these accommodations. Audiologist Juliette Sterkens, who is the Hearing Loss Association of America's hearing loop advocate, thinks hearing loss is an invisible problem in the workplace.
Most employers, she said in an email, "are unaware that their employees struggle" with hearing loss.
And that hurts both employers and workers, reports Marketwatch.com. A survey of more than 1,500 employees by EPIC Hearing Healthcare, a hearing benefits provider, found that nearly 1 in 3 employees suspected they had a hearing problem but had not sought treatment. The survey also found that of those with untreated hearing loss, nearly all (95 percent) reported that this affected their job. Among the most common complaints was being unable to understand a conversation, especially if there was background noise, and having trouble hearing over the phone.
For now, it falls on you — the hearing-diminished boomer — to hold your own. Here are some tips:
Get hearing aids
Only about 20 percent of people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually use one, says the National Institutes of Health. Granted, most company insurance plans do not pay for hearing aids, nor does Medicare, but the investment could be worth it if it means being able to perform your job well — or even keep it.
If you can't afford hearing aids, try a PSAP
In-ear amplifiers or personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) can cost only one-tenth as much as the average hearing aid and don't require a prescription. They are very effective for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Talk to your supervisor and colleagues
If you are still having trouble despite hearing aids, tell your supervisor and colleagues. And then tell them again and again. Hearing loss is invisible, and they'll quickly forget they need to look at you when they talk, refrain from yelling to be heard on the phone, which distorts sound, and not expect you to hear them from across the room.
Make sure your hearing aids have telecoils
By law, all landline telephones must be hearing-aid compatible, which means that the inner workings won't cause your hearing aid to buzz. If you flip to telecoil mode when making or receiving a call, the reception will be far clearer. And if you happen to work in one of those rare places where meeting rooms are looped, you'll be able to hear as clearly from the back row as you would from the front.
If necessary, ask for accommodations
The easiest and most effective of these is a captioned telephone. A captioned phone won't work for a trader on the floor of the stock exchange — the captions are too slow — but it will help a majority of those with hearing loss to follow a business conversation.
Ask for a portable hearing loop
If you work at an information counter or a cash register, or anyplace where you regularly interact with people, a portable hearing loop can help you more clearly hear people's speech. These are usually considered as accommodations for customers with hearing loss, but they are equally effective for an employee with a loss.
For daily meetings, consider an FM system or Phonak's Roger system
These work well when you need to regularly hear one or more speakers. The FM systems work best for one-on-one conversations, but the Roger can be used with several microphones around a table, allowing you to hear all the speakers.