Surviving the Office Holiday Parties with Hearing Loss

Co-workers enjoying themselves despite having hearing loss

You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.

It makes you miserable.

In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But then you look around–and you see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.

For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors–as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).

Why holiday parties can be stressful

Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.

First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. (Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.)

For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:

  • Office parties feature tons of people all talking over each other. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
  • Lots of background noise–laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
  • Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds–meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.

This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. At first glance, that might sound like a minor thing. Sure, you’ll miss your boss’s great joke about the argumentative triangle (it was a right triangle–get it?). That’s not the big deal.

So… What is the big deal?

The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events (it’s a strange mix that–as we think about it–maybe aren’t as cool and fun as they used to be? In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are). This means a couple of things:

  • You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own area. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed–so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good opportunity to forge connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
  • You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind–and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!

This can be even more problematic because you may not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.

As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.

Causes of hearing loss

So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Mostly commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.

That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. In most cases, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).

Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!

Tips to make your office party more enjoyable

Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:

  • Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
  • Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
  • Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket–and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
  • Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
  • Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.

Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs–and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small–you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.

Get your hearing checked before the party

That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!

Find a provider in your area to schedule an appointment by searching providers near you.

Want more information?

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