You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s really difficult to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent opportunity to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will normally experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, 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).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized 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.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.