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What?! We're All Losing Our Hearing Now

Do you feel like you're always repeating yourself at work? If you think it's bad now, just wait.

A new University of Florida study estimates one in four U.S. college students suffers from hearing loss. As Business Week reports:
The students' hearing loss occurred in the range of frequencies important for speech discrimination, as well as in higher frequencies.

"With high-frequency hearing loss a person can miss a lot of subtle speech sounds, making it harder to discriminate different vowels or phonemes. It would also be much harder to hear sounds like bird songs or children's voices," explained [lead researcher Colleen] Le Prell.

That's right: One-quarter of tomorrow's workers aren't going to catch what you just said.

Granted, UF’s sample size of 56 students is a bit on the small side, but it doesn’t bode well for the future of the workplace when a University of Wisconsin study of 2,800 U.S. adults released last month found 6% of Gen Xers in the 35 to 44 age range are already somewhat hearing impaired and 10% of people in the 45 to 54 age range suffer from "moderate" hearing loss. I'll let The Flintstones offer a quick tutorial on what "moderate" hearing loss sounds like.

Cranking all those mix tapes on our cassette players back in the 1980s probably didn't help. Ditto for all those rock concerts.

Well, hear this America: The National Center for Health Statistics estimates 17% of Americans – or 36 million people -- have some degree of hearing loss, ranking it third only behind heart disease and arthritis as the top U.S. public health issue.

One wonders how many workers are already walking out of staff meetings having misheard something very important, and the impact these misinterpretations are having on overall productivity. Oh, the PowerPoint presentation is on Tuesday instead of Friday? How did I think it was on Friday? There's pizza in the break room? No one tells me anything anymore.

The Great Recession may be making things worse, for the simple reason that employees don’t want to look stupid by asking the boss to repeat herself. So they nod their heads "yes," go back to work, and proceed to make all kinds of mistakes. "Wait, the boss said 'it’s due by five,' instead of 'dude, high five'? Boy, I thought that was a really strange thing for her to say! Guess I heard her wrong."

Ah, the sonorous sound of mistakes lowering overall productivity levels.

If these studies ring true -- and not because of tinnitus -- then pretty much every workplace of any size has a few employees under age 50 who either don’t know they have mild to moderate hearing loss or won’t admit it because they think they’re too young to have a hearing problem. If only the boss would stop mumbling. That’s the problem!

Managers could be repeating themselves even more in three to five years as a new crop of semi-hearing-challenged, MP3-toting college graduates arrives in the workplace. The boss will think these young employees are making stupid mistakes because they're distracted by technology when a hearing problem could be to blame. Hey, I thought I already told you guys about this during yesterday's staff meeting! Wasn't anybody listening?

Add in all the 40something Gen X employees who embarrass their children regularly by misinterpreting Black Eyed Peas' lyrics, and managers will have a feeling that today's gonna be a bad day. Hey, the Black Eyed Peas mumble, it's not my poor hearing!

Smart companies might want to start offering annual on-site hearing checks along with the flu shot clinic. At the very least, managers should speak louder during meetings or use email for the important stuff. Never write your messages in screaming ALL CAPS, though, because there's no need to shout.


  1. Great post..hearing loss have to be cured as hearing is important for us.
    Early detection on hearing loss


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