A big part of whether Deaf people are happy and thriving at work comes down to the people around them.
Even when you’ve successfully got through the interview stage, been offered the job, got the support you need (possibly through Access to Work) and then started work, whether you’ll thrive or not is often down to your colleagues.
Some people are naturally Deaf-aware, others learn fast. Some forget to make adjustments once in a while, while others never get it at all.
One thing has always stood out for me – new bosses.
I’ve lost count of the number of Deaf people I’ve met who were happy at work, only for this to change once a new boss came along with a very different attitude to deafness than their predecessor.
One man I know had spent years happily working and being promoted at his organisation, working well with his boss, who was very positive about Deaf people.
However, his new boss immediately had a very different perspective. The boss didn’t think Deaf people could do the job at all, and communicated rudely and patronisingly. Ironically the boss had a Deaf relative, and kept on comparing his employee to his relative. Needless to say, the Deaf man soon felt his working environment had become intolerable and later left his job. He’s now working in a very different field.
I’ve heard other stories just like this, where a new boss changes the whole working environment without bearing a Deaf employee in mind. Where once a Deaf person felt included, suddenly they are ‘out of the loop,’ as the physical or communications environment changes. It could be moving where they sit in the office, or simply not making sure a Deaf person knows something that everyone else has been told verbally about.
Perhaps, the new boss is themselves trying to seem like they’re not a pushover, and are also getting used to a new workplace, reducing the amount of time they have to focus on one employee with different needs. Or perhaps it’s worse than that, and they arrive with pre-conceived negative views that are impossible to change. Either way, the result is often not good for the Deaf employee.
It makes me think that a new boss coming along is a bit like a roll of the dice. You might get someone just like the boss you had before. You might get lucky and get someone better. You might find your life changing quite a bit if they’re worse.
This isn’t necessarily just a ‘Deaf thing.’ To some degree, changes at work affect hearing people as well. It’s just that the potential effect of these changes is much more severe.
Has your job changed when you got a new boss? Tell us your views below.
By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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