Why you should let your employees listen to music

Music at work

If a happy, productive team is what you’re after (and who isn’t?), music might be the fastest and easiest way to get there.

Dr. David Lewis is one of countless researchers whose work attests to the power of music at work. His research has revealed that 9 out of 10 workers perform better when listening to music.

“Music is a very powerful management tool if you want to increase not only the efficiency of your workforce but also their mental and emotional state – they’re going to become more positive about the work,” Dr. Lewis says.

Indeed, music can cause a surge of dopamine, one of the feel-good chemicals in our brains that also shows up when we’re eating something delicious, making money, or even falling in love.

Sounds great, right? Here’s how to put it in practice at the office.

Using music to boost employee engagement (and productivity)

Even the most complex jobs have aspects that are repetitive in nature, and music can often be a good antidote. For example, surgeons – whose work could hardly be described as simple or rote – have music playing 62-72% of the time in operating rooms. Up to 80% of operating room staff, meanwhile, report that music helps with reducing anxiety, increasing cooperation, and improving efficiency.

If your team and space are small enough, you might also be able to make music a shared element of your work. You can’t, however, just rush to introduce staff to your favourite jazz via the office sound system. As much as Miles Davis might take you to your happy place, choice for the listener is key when it comes to music at work.

Dr. Teresa Lesiuk noted the importance of choice in her research; while employees who listened to music were quicker, and brought better ideas to the team, the ability to choose music they enjoyed was essential. So, if you’re thinking of playing music in the office, ask your staff for suggestions.

Keep in mind, though, that you can’t please everyone. One person might be at their most productive while listening to Mozart or Brahms, and another might do their best work accompanied by the soothing sounds of black metal.

The best bet is to put it to a vote, with majority winning. This, however, can lead to some resentment if your resident country and western fan keeps getting outvoted. To get around this, assign a different DJ every day who gets to pick the playlist, or have someone manage requests from the rest of the staff.

The point about working in silence is also worth repeating. There are times and tasks for which music is a perfect complement, but it can also get in the way. Notably, if tasks are highly demanding intellectually, or require the doer to learn something new, music can impact performance negatively. Always ask staff before blasting out the tunes.

Turning music into an individual productivity tool

If members of your staff are working on something monotonous and could use help to power through it, encourage them to go solo by listening to something they love.

This, however, leads to the question of headphones. While some bosses disapprove of headphones at the office (for several reasons, including a perceived sense of disconnection or lack of collaboration between colleagues when headphones come into play), they are a necessary evil when it comes to giving people the freedom to listen to their own tunes (especially in open-plan office spaces).

If you’re concerned about the effects headphones can have on the workplace, consider putting some protocols in place. For example, limiting headphone use to certain hours and volumes (can employees still hear what’s going on around them?) is one approach to keeping potential problems to a minimum.  Keep in mind, however, that these kinds of restrictions will often be difficult to enforce, and can rub some people the wrong way (especially younger workers).

Remember that even though it may seem counter-intuitive, a connected, collaborative atmosphere often involves giving people the time to put their heads down and turn the music up. Feeling inspired? Lifehacker has compiled six “productivity playlists” featuring music that helps get things done, from a very wide range of genres.

See also:
6 awesome employee handbooks
How to offer career pathing and growth opportunities at your small business
How to build a healthier, happier office


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