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3 min read
09/09/16 20:30

It has often been assumed that music serves as a distraction for employees. Years ago, if you walked into an office building, all you heard was the clicking of fingers against keys and the hum of a Xerox machine. If someone was seen wearing headphones or listened to music behind closed doors, it was deemed disrespectful or the person was perceived as inattentive. But as businesses are pursuing new routes to increase employee productivity, headphones are on the Do’s list of office welcome packs. Additionally there are companies that customize daily playlists to suit your office’s needs.


But before thinking about why music in the workplace is important, it’s key to determine what underlying factors drive its importance. The modern workplace is inherently distracting, as open office plans become the preferred choice of business owners. While the intention is to foster collaboration by removing physical barriers, the lack of divide makes offices, especially ones where employees have frequent phone calls, are noisy. Similarly, collaboration often becomes mindless chatter among teams which is great for morale but hits hard against productivity. So, offices began employing a headphone policy so their teams could remove the distraction without having to build walls. However, they did not understand the true impact music would have.


Better Mood Means Higher Productivity


It’s no surprise that music has a positive effect on your mood. Much like consuming food or drugs, listening to music releases dopamine. More specifically, “music works on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling blood pressure and heart rate, as well as the limbic system, which is responsible for feelings and emotions.” As a result, music is often used as a remedy for anxiety and stress. Managers should welcome the opportunity music presents to create a calmer and more focused workplace.


Office or building-wide sound systems are seen as imposing a taste or mood on employees. Similarly, playing music company-wide may cause a larger distraction. When the objective is for music to impact productivity, control is important. Studies show that the impact of music on productivity is much more powerful when the subject is listening to something they enjoy. The release of dopamine is greater when listening to music you deem pleasurable, rather than something you’re neutral towards. In your brain, there are specific regions--the default mode network (DMN), which is associated with how we switch from inner and outer thought. While active, the DMN helps you tune out the physical world while focusing on “internal stimuli, like memories and your imagination.”


Choice vs Tone


Although choice is an important and personal decision when it comes to the music you enjoy while at work, there are other elements worth considering. It’s important to keep in mind that music you’re familiar with tends to be less distracting. If a song or artist is unknown to you, your mind is more focused on discovering the sound and lyrics and is less able to process the sound as ambient. Lyrics in a song activate the language center of your brain. So when engaging heavy writing or reading that requires near complete comprehension, lyrics may be more disruptive.


For people who have a wide range of musical tastes, it’s easier to find something that suits each task. Classical music tends to be popular given the lack of lyrics while electronic music can be helpful for more creative tasks because it is repetitive, allowing the listener to hold thoughts longer and process more creativity.


Music and productivity  


The effect music has on productivity depends on the type of job the person performs. For people whose jobs entail of repetitive tasks, music is especially effective on their progress. So, for factory or data processing roles, music shows a marked uptick in the amount of work completed in a given time. In a study conducted at the University of Windsor in Canada, software developers with the lowest quality work and least focus showed significant improvement once music was introduced to their day. Yet the right music also has the right effect on jobs rooted in creativity. Due to the fact that music acts as a barrier between the listener and the outside world, it opens up the mind to explore new creative depths.


Music Benefits Package


Whether your company produces software, manufactures furniture, or designs interiors of homes and buildings, music can enhance your team’s productivity--but only if they’re able to listen to music of their choice. Given the evidence linking music to productivity, it is understandable that more employers are revising their listening policies during work hours. But beyond that, it could be pertinent for forward thinking companies to include music-related perks in their wellness packages. Whereas benefits like meditation or yoga classes remove teams from the office to quiet their minds and increase productivity, music is a benefit that can be used during work hours.

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