Music in the Workplace: Productive or Destructive?

Ever questioned whether or not music helps or hurts your office environment? You’re not alone. In fact, the answer is not as clear cut as you might think. Much of it depends on the type of work being performed and the culture you are looking to create. So before you decide to pump music through the office or promote a headphone policy, read on to discover what best suits your business.

When it comes to productivity, the type of music you listen to can have a big impact on your ability to perform effectively at your job. Researchers from the University of Birmingham, England found that listening to music while performing repetitive tasks – such as basic spreadsheet entries – can greatly benefit productivity. However, when more brain power is required, such as with strategic planning and problem solving, music can have a detrimental effect on productivity. The more complex the task, the less music will benefit your output.

If your office environment involves more strategic thinking and you want to have music playing aloud, several studies [sources: Cornell University; Dr. Anneli Haake, PhD] recommend music that is instrumental (i.e. no vocals), repetitive, and simple (structurally).

Alternatively, you could consider introducing musical ‘zones’ within your office which alter the genre and volume of music based on the intensity of thinking required. For instance, casual zones, such as an entryway or kitchen, could include upbeat music at slightly higher volumes, while other areas of the office could have more thought-provoking music at lower levels, or no music at all. The important thing is to choose music that matches the culture you are trying to create.

Need help creating playlists to support your company culture?

Headphones are a bit trickier. With more and more offices turning to ‘open’ layouts, headphones are certainly becoming more popular as a means to maintaining a sense of privacy and controlling one’s audible space. However, if not managed properly, headphones can be detrimental to corporate culture, as well as one’s career [sources: Harvard Business Review; The New York Times].

The primary argument against headphones is that they consume employees’ attention, which could otherwise be spent interacting with co-workers. They can give off an antisocial appearance. All in all, this creates for a sterile office environment – hardly the goal for many businesses looking to build a great culture.

At the same time, employees need to feel as though they have their own space, and headphones can offer that refuge. For certain creative and repetitive tasks, this can even lead to greater productivity. When it comes to headphones, employees need to strike a balance between using them to create a focused environment and being present with their fellow co-workers.

So, is music helpful or hurtful in the workplace? It depends on the type of environment you have and the culture you’re trying to build. The right music, in the right environment can benefit productivity. Headphones too, can be beneficial in the right doses, but employees should become more aware of how often they wear them and select content that will aid productivity.

We have found it most effective to be up-front when it comes to your workplace music strategy. Provide reasoning as to where and why you play the music you do, and always, always tie it back to your brand purpose. Educating your teams on music’s effect on productivity, and recommending playlists can further help create the awareness, productivity, and interaction you are after.

 

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