Specific jobs carry a higher risk for tinnitus than others. If you are a carpenter, pilot, musician, or street worker, you are among those at high risk for the buzzing, hissing, and ringing associated with tinnitus. If you already have tinnitus, how does the condition affect your work performance? A British study indicates that 42% of workers with tinnitus believe that it directly impacts their job. The lack of sleep and anxiety associated with tinnitus makes work difficult. Other problems include:
- Difficulty hearing conversations in the office and during meetings
- Problems socializing after work
- Difficulty hearing telephone conversations
So, what is the impact of tinnitus on work, and what can you do about it?
Focus and Concentration
Concentration difficulties have a substantial impact on the work performance of employees with tinnitus. A recent survey indicates that respondents believe that tinnitus affects their concentration at work. Unlike the concentration fatigue that people with hearing loss experience, people with tinnitus must push constant background noise into the background to focus on other activities.
Many people function with tinnitus without problems. The severity of tinnitus varies widely, and many people with severe tinnitus find ways to cope and make it less severe. However, severe tinnitus often includes anxiety and sleeplessness, which impacts the ability to focus at work.
The Work Environment
There are work environments and professions that expose people to sounds capable of causing hearing damage and tinnitus. The occupations include military service, construction, manufacturing, and music, just to name a few. Trades with lower-level sounds like restaurants, call centers, and schools can be harmful as people endure exposure to constant noise throughout the workday. People with tinnitus have an increase in sound sensitivity and can experience severe ear pain from typical sound levels in a busy office. Even the travel to and from work can be a problem for those who are hypersensitive to sound. Subways and buses are loud and make life uncomfortable for those with tinnitus.
Many colleagues do not understand tinnitus and lack the desire to adjust to make life easier for the worker with tinnitus. Worse still, many people with tinnitus do not bother to speak up about their condition for fear of discrimination and other consequences. It is not uncommon for coworkers to simply not believe the employee with tinnitus.
What Can You Do?
As an employer, the best thing you can do is be accommodating when your employees need sick leave or an extended period of absence due to tinnitus symptoms. Some of your employees may require a permanent solution, such as leaving for a less demanding career. Be open and flexible in your discussions with them.
Small changes are also useful, such as adjusting the sound levels if possible. Allow the use of headphones at work and consider allowing employees the option of working from home if it is possible. If you experience the symptoms of tinnitus, schedule an exam with a hearing healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and suggestions to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus.