Schulich research reveals how businesses can support employees with hearing loss

Group of office workers sitting indoors

New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows how employees with severe hearing loss cope with challenges associated with unsupportive work environments and supervisors.

Brent Lyons
Brent Lyons

The findings are contained in an article published recently in the Journal of Management. The article, titled “Disability Severity, Professional Isolation Perceptions, and Career Outcomes: When Does Leader–Member Exchange Quality Matter?,” was co-written by Brent Lyons, associate professor of organization studies at Schulich and the York Research Chair in Stigmatization and Social Identity; David Baldridge, professor of management at Oregon State University; Liu-Qin Yang, professor of psychology at Portland State University; and Camellia Bryan, postdoctoral scholar at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

In two studies with employees with hearing loss, the researchers found that in workplaces where there was little or no support, employees with more severe hearing loss improved career outcomes by adopting coping strategies, including psychologically disengaging from professional connections at work. 

In other words, says Lyons, these workers protected themselves by placing less value on professional connections, which in turn reduced feelings of isolation; however, that should not discourage effective managers and supervisors from supporting employees with severe hearing loss.

“Managers and colleagues can play an important role in building inclusive work environments that support deaf and hard-of-hearing employees,” says Lyons. “Taken-for-granted ways of socializing at work, if left unchecked, can pose challenges. It’s helpful when managers and colleagues check in and are flexible.”

Adds Baldridge: “One-on-one meetings or lunch in a quiet location would be more effective for an employee with hearing loss than trying to introduce them to people at a cocktail party.”

Lyons cautions that psychological disengagement can have negative ramifications in the long run. “One way to support deaf and hard-of-hearing employees in building professional connections is to ensure that networking events are accessible to all employees, and to make it easy to request accommodation without fear of repercussion or hassle.”