Staying Productive When the Beat Goes On (and On)

As any parent of a teenager will tell you (or any teenager, for that matter), music is personal nowadays. It’s a constant companion for many people who literally carry it with them everywhere they go. Music is also tied up in identity in a way that wasn’t as intense in previous generations. Criticize someone’s music, especially a young person, and it can feel like you are criticizing who they are.

But music can present a serious problem in the workplace when employees play it out loud in open office spaces, disrupting the productivity of coworkers and creating resentment that boils over in other areas. That isn’t good for anybody.

More than half of those surveyed currently say listening to music as they work helps them concentrate and makes them more productive. If you are one of those folks—well I hate to tell ya, but the science isn’t really on your side.

Studies show that listening to music hurts our ability to recall other information, such as reading or listening done while the tunes were playing. Any pop song at any volume reduces focus and productivity across the board. Worst of all is music with lyrics, which scrambles our brains’ verbal processing skills.

But the news isn’t all bad. While music robs our concentration, it does help us relax, reduces anxiety, and improves our mood. Those things can make us feel better about our work and our environment, which can feed back into productivity. Much surely depends on whether it’s the music of your choice.

Now that 70 percent of office workers are in cubicles or other open workspaces, it’s more important than ever for them to have control over their own sound environments. It’s harder to block auditory stimuli than something visually distracting. In short, you can close your eyes, but it’s much harder to close your ears.

Bottom line: Every employee has the right to determine whether music is a help or hindrance to their own work. They do NOT have the right to decide this for others. And because productivity often takes a serious hit, employers have not just the right but the responsibility to protect the sound environment for each and every worker.

The simplest solution is to place the sound barrier right at the source. Headphones were invented for a reason. If your company doesn’t have a headphones-only music policy, it’s time to make a very firm suggestion.


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