Carl Else, 34, from Sheffield is a visual merchandiser for IKEA. Here Carl, and his manager James explain how good communication has helped to offer a supportive workplace
“I was born with moderate hearing loss – I inherited it from my mum and my nan who are both deaf. I’ve been a visual merchandiser for the last 13 years, mainly within the retail industry in charge of creating attractive visual displays in store. I’ve never found it difficult to get jobs, despite my deafness, which has become severe over the years, but I did find that it was a barrier to climbing the career ladder. Before I came to IKEA, I worked for another large retailer, and while I really enjoyed the job, I felt that my hearing loss meant that I wasn’t being considered for bigger roles. I felt frustrated that there was no chance for promotion. I asked for adjustments in terms of meetings or subtitling on training videos, but the management didn’t address my issues, and I felt like they brushed it under the carpet. I also felt marginalised by my colleagues – it wasn’t their fault; they just didn’t know how to talk to me. There was no culture of being deaf-aware. They wouldn’t make any extra effort to include me in conversations or when they did, they’d exaggerate their speech which made me embarrassed and isolated.
When I found out that I got an interview with IKEA, I was so excited. I hadn’t disclosed my hearing loss on my application form; I hadn’t felt I needed to. But once I got my interview date, I did email the interviewer to make him aware that I might need extra support, and he emailed me straight back saying he’d provide whatever I needed.
IKEA has been so supportive from day one. As a company, they have a great ethos of inclusivity and it really shows. As part of my induction, all new starters had to give a presentation about themselves, and I asked to go first, to get it out of the way! I needn’t have worried as I couldn’t have got a warmer reception from my colleagues. My manager James has always been compassionate and understanding about my needs. It’s just simple things like making sure I’ve understood what’s going on in meetings, or tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention, and he always makes sure that he’s facing me when he’s speaking, so I can lipread. With the support of the company, I initiated a Deaf Awareness day last year, where all my team wore earplugs, which really opened people’s eyes. I feel totally myself at work, I love what I do and best of all, accepted on my merits, rather than my limitations.”
James Goldthorpe, 39, is a visual merchandising and activities manager for IKEA and Carl’s team leader.
“I didn’t know Carl was deaf until he emailed me prior to his interview. I’ve never employed anyone with hearing loss before, so I saw this as a learning opportunity as much as anything else.
As a company, IKEA prides itself on its inclusivity, so it hasn’t been hard to put a few, simple steps into place to make Carl feel more supported at work. We’ve set up a team What’s App group so we can easily communicate while we’re on the shop floor and Carl also has a pager which alerts him of any fire evacuations or emergencies. I make sure he understands what’s going on in meetings and email him any presentations beforehand so he can read them through. Everyone on the team is aware of Carl’s needs and we make it a priority to help him in any way we can. Of course, we don’t get it right all the time, but Carl feels comfortable enough to remind us if we get it wrong!
IKEA values diversity and inclusivity and each employee is hired on his or her merits. Carl had the right skills for the job, so it was a no-brainer to employee him! Any adjustments we’ve had to make to help Carl perform to the best of his ability have been simple and straightforward. It’s a journey we have gone on together. Carl is an integral part of the team – I see how hard he strives every day, despite his hearing loss and he inspires me. His philosophy is that there’s always a solution. It’s a lesson we could all live by.”
Our Working for Change campaign
Our Working for Change campaign aims to improve attitudes to hearing loss in the workplace. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, we need your help.