Music in the Workplace

Music Policy in the Workplace

In today’s competitive world, maintaining a positive company culture is important.  Finding ways to keep your employees motivated and engaged in their work is equally important.  Some business owners, managers, or supervisors utilize music in the office as a way to reach these goals, but depending on how your office music policies are being implemented (if they even exist), music could be a help or a hindrance.


Music:  The Pros

A number of studies demonstrate that listening to music releases dopamine into the brain.  Dopamine comes from the reward area of the brain.  It’s a “feel good” chemical that is triggered when you smell a pleasing aroma, when you’re in love, when you eat a delicacy, or when you look at something appealing.  Many would suggest that employees who feel they are being “rewarded” while working, will often do better work.

Some employees turn on music when they find themselves losing focus.  Music helps these individuals to stay in the present moment. Others find music helps them to drown out distractions.  Perhaps the office is too noisy for them to concentrate.  Perhaps it’s too quiet!  Either way, employees engaged in repetitive tasks often feel more awake and focused with music in their ears.

Music in the Workplace

Music:  The Cons

During the World War I era, factory managers used phonographs to flood plants with music to help keep their workers stimulated. For decades it was common to hear “Muzak” in office spaces.  When you walk into your favorite stores at the mall you’re sure to hear music.  But how do you handle an office space where everyone has different musical tastes and each person is accustomed to their own highly-individualized playlists?  One thing is certain…you’ll never find an office space where everyone equally enjoys listening to the exact same list of songs.

“If you make yourself unavailable for most of the day, off in seclusion, you’re going to damage relationships,” says Lisa Wright, a business etiquette consultant. “You’re saying, `Just stay away’ and, once it becomes a habit, it’s like closing the door all the time. It’s hard for people to knock on that door.  (from The Etiquette Advantage)

At this point, some might suggest it’s better to allow their employees to wear earbuds and to listen to music that works best for them.  This choice, however, introduces another problem.  While music may help some people focus on their work – or reduce environmental distractions – if can also become a barrier between employees.  When someone is “in the zone,” with music in their ears it’s hard to interact, dialogue, and engage.  As business etiquette consultant Lisa Wright, has noted:  earphones have become the new “closed door.”  Related to this point, some people may get a bit too excited by their tunes which can also create tension between employees.

You may now believe you should go back to considering one musical broadcast for the whole office.  This would allow your employees to feel free to engage with one another and you could easily stop the music when you feel it’s necessary. This choice, of course, goes back to determining WHAT you’re going to play.  As we’ve already stated, there’s no perfect genre or playlist that will work for everyone.  You also need to be mindful that some songs could contain lyrics that some may find offensive.  From an HR perspective, it’s best to err on the side of caution and to only play music that the vast majority of people would find harmless (be forewarned that your employees may consider you a bit “boring” in your musical tastes).

One unique scenario that is often overlooked is the employees of your office who are musicians themselves.  While these people clearly love music, they may find music in the office to be especially distracting.  Musicians tend to process music differently.  They analyze it.  They’re thinking about the chords, the tempo, the guitar riffs and drum fills, etc.  For these individuals, playing music in the office is a bit like trying to do two jobs at once!


Music:  The Bottom Line


So what’s the bottom line?  What’s the best way to enjoy music in the office?  The bottom line is there is no ONE way to use music in the workplace.  They’re simply too many factors to consider to suggest rules of etiquette that would work for all offices, all situations, and all employees.

That said, music can increase productivity and morale, and employers should create some time to discern how music could be used in their own workspace.  First, sit down with you team and discuss the matter, including the pros and cons.  Figure out if you have musicians in your group and ask them how music affects them.  Ask if people find any type of music offensive.  Try to determine if there are favorite genres among the group.  Discover which employees – and which type of tasks – lend themselves to music and which employees would find it distracting.  Then meet with your HR people and figure out the plan that works best for you.  Make sure you include clear policies on who controls music for the whole office and when it’s on (or off!).  Make sure you also include who can use their personal music devices, when they can use them, and how others can (and should) interrupt them when necessary.