Listening to Music in The Office: Breaking It Down

Issue # 
October 20, 2022

Music has long been considered food for the soul. But the question is, can it fuel your employees’ productivity in the same way it would power them through household chores or a challenging workout at the gym? 

Those who regularly listen to music claim it positively impacts them in several ways supporting improved mood, reduced stress, and enhanced focus, but do these equate to better work performance? If you’re wondering if the proclaimed benefits of music at work are real or not, read on. 

Benefits of Music At Work

While silence is considered golden for some employers, an increasing number of employees report that listening to music at work lifts their spirits and helps them get into the zone for enhanced productivity (71% to be exact). One of the key reasons is that music aids concentration by blocking out noise distractions found in open-plan work environments, and it can effectively reduce (usually negative) internal brain chatter that distracts attention away from deep-focus work projects. 

Listening to music is, for many, an enjoyable experience. That’s why it can help those working on repetitive, low-cognition tasks avoid boredom and frustration and significantly lower the number of breaks needed for rest and recharge. Due to the associated release of dopamine, music can even make such tasks feel more rewarding and motivate employees to work longer and at a faster pace while still retaining (or even enhancing) accuracy levels. 

Another way that music can help workers get more stuff done is by reducing task fatigue for those working on mundane, repetitive, and low-cognitive activities. Plugging into a favored playlist distracts the brain, helps avoid boredom and frustration, and allows people to carry on for far longer without taking as many breaks. It also makes such tasks feel far more enjoyable than they otherwise might, keeping people engaged and motivated in their work. 

Beyond that, music's mood-enhancing, stress-busting properties can also prove advantageous for work. Relaxed, happy employees have higher morale and are more engaged and satisfied in their jobs. They tend to demonstrate a greater commitment to their work. When people wake up excited and enthusiastic about heading to the office, they will work harder and be more productive. Music can have a lot to do with this.

Music is not One-Size-Fits-All

Many people wonder what kind of music is appropriate to address emotions and productivity at work. This is where things can get complex. The answer is not straightforward, but this is an area of focus that Spiritune understands and is solving for. While it’s easy to default to your own favorite music or standardized playlists on music streaming sites, many of these playlists you find in the wild on traditional music streaming sites are typically one-size-fits-all, for example, a “get chill” playlist or a “deep focus” playlist. Music in these playlists often fall short because the music isn’t personalized or matched to the listeners’ emotional state or cognitive activity in the moment. These aspects are often very important in eliciting a reliable emotional or cognitive response that a listener may be looking to achieve while at work. For example a “focus” playlist might be too upbeat for a fatigued employee or too downtempo for an energized employee. That’s why it’s important that music is created to adapt and be personalized to match individual employees’ emotional and cognitive needs. 

Why is this often complex or difficult to accomplish? Because most music found in the wild is produced and composed through a creative lens, not a scientific one. While these songs can certainly be beautiful, enjoyable or pleasing, it doesn’t mean that they are scientifically created or optimized to meet a cognitive state for focused attention, or an emotional need to calm anxiety or decrease stress. As with all things related to our health and wellbeing, the scientific dimension is critical when looking to elicit a reliable and targeted health outcome. It is no different in the auditory music realm - the science basis is equally as important as the creative talent with which a music composition is composed.

So why are your favorite songs not always the best option for your productivity playlist? Your favorite songs or top hits can easily become a distraction in the workplace. When people know the songs well and enjoy listening to them, they are more likely to get carried away with the music invoking either a positive emotional response where they find themselves tapping their toes to the beat or a negative one where they ruminate on aspects of their personal lives. Studies have shown how certain music types can lower productivity and task accuracy.

Reaping The Benefits of Music at Work

There are many clear therapeutic and productivity benefits of listening to music at work. Often the decision to listen to music at work comes down to the specific industry your business belongs to and the fact that some types of music lends itself better to some roles than others. That’s not to say that it can’t benefit most employees, but laying down some rules of thumb can help make it work for everyone. 

Here are some guidelines to get you started: 

  • Be clear on who can listen to music and when 

You might choose to restrict certain employees from listening to music at certain times - especially if they are dealing directly with customers or working closely with other team members at the time. There may also be health and safety reasons for why workers need to be able to hear others, such as when operating heavy machinery. 

  • Set standards for how workers listen to music 

When listening to music in the office, it’s probably best to use headphones so one employee’s music doesn’t interfere with another employee’s work activities. If you have a private room or office and want to listen on a personal speaker, the volume should be kept at a modest level. You may also restrict streaming on sites such as YouTube, which could provide an entirely different  level of distraction. 

The Conclusion

Employees’ need emotional and cognitive relief at work like never before. Music can be an effective, reliable, enjoyable and accessible activity to address employees’ health and wellbeing. However, music isn’t one-size-fits-all and when it comes to health outcomes, it’s important to consider the scientific and therapeutic dimensions when it comes to the music your employees’ listen to. That’s why Spiritune works with leading neuroscientists and music therapists from Stanford and NYU to inform our music knowledge base in collaboration with composers that create music adapted and personalized for specific emotional and cognitive states at every moment of your employees’ day - from waking up to work to sleep. 

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