Music in the workplace – is it a great idea or a terrible one? If you have ever tried to get a carful of people to agree on a playlist, you can imagine that opinions are divided. Research shows that a lot of people find listening to music at work helpful – at least if they can choose when to listen to it.
So Why do you listen to music at work?
1. Relaxation: “It calms me down”, “eases my stress”
Music at work can contribute to relaxation by channeling your stress and negative emotions, and can remind you of not being at work. It can also provide a mini-break from being mentally active and allow you rest and recover. In this sense, music can create a sense of well-being in offices by putting employees in a good mood.
2. Concentration: “It improves my ability to focus on what I am working on”
Music can aid your concentration by suppressing distractions around the office. Some people experience these effects when they do simpler tasks, but it could also help when doing more complex work. You can control your soundscape in the office and replace external interruptions with sounds of your choice (more on this in reason 4).
3. Emotional management: “It helps me to remain positive”
Music can be inspirational; it can encourage thoughts and motivate you. It can act as a stress reliever and be a‘fellow sufferer’ in a public space, where it might not be appropriate to act out all your frustrations. It can also provide a sense of company when your working space is too quiet or empty.
4. It blocks out distractions: “It helps me concentrate, especially when someone else is in the office, or talking on the phone, or having a meeting nearby”
Being able to block out distractions can be a way to cope with stress, as it gives you more control over your environment. Headphones in particular help to improve concentration in two ways.
- They block out other sounds. Employees often use headphones to block out surrounding noise from the environment or colleagues.
- They act as a ‘do not disturb’ sign. Employees also use headphones to send a visual signal that they are busy and not to be interrupted by others.
5. It creates variation and helps you think about something else: “If music was not my distraction, then something unproductive would be, such as fiddling with papers or gazing out of the window”
Music can provide you with a diversion so you don’t engage in other distracting behaviours. It’s a strategy to manage internal interruptions like daydreams or thoughts that could make you lose your flow. It might also stop you from doing other unproductive things like browsing the internet or chatting with colleagues.
The history of music and working
Listening to music while working is by no means a new innovation. Songs, for a long time helped people synchronise their movements and made the day go quicker. In the 1930s, recorded music was often used in factories to improve productivity and reduce boredom and fatigue.
Today, technology has made it easier to listen to your own music at work. Many employees have access to music through mp3 players, smartphones and via the internet, and can make choices about what to listen to that previously would not have been possible.
Does it always work?
Academic research shows that listening to music at work can help improve your mood, relax you and make you feel happier. However, it can have its drawbacks, too. Loud music can irritate your co-workers and headphones can isolate you from your team, which is not always a good thing.
Generally, it’s most beneficial when you have control over what you are listening to. If music is forced upon people, it can be irritating and annoying, and we know from research that office noise can have severe negative effects on employee health, well-being and productivity.
But when employees can have control over when, where and what they listen to, music can clearly bring about real benefits to individual employees, and ultimately to the company.
- Haake, A.B. (2011) Individual music listening in workplace settings: an exploratory survey of offices in the UK. Musicae Scientiae, 15 (1)
- Haake, A.B. (2010). Music listening in UK offices: Balancing internal needs and external considerations. Doctoral thesis. Music Department, University of Sheffield, UK.