Music in the Office: Distracting or Productive?

Music in the office remains an issue for many offices. Some people claim it greatly improves their productivity and concentration, others state that it drives them up the wall.

The use of music in the office has evolved as the workplace has evolved out of the formal business environment. It's been generally accepted, but there are still reservations about time and place.

Pros and cons of music in the office

Cons

  • Music is distracting for some people, getting their attention in the wrong way, according to some commentators. A person wearing headphones may be oblivious to anything else, like they're wearing blinkers.
  • Some workplaces use a broadcast system, or radios, in the workplace. That is considered to be a negative, particularly in customer service or phone inquiry roles. The choice of music, particularly AM, also bothers many younger people. FM, aka "sleazy listening" in some cases, doesn't appeal to older people.
  • Productivity is sometimes debatable, given the environment and type of work. People who are multi-tasking, or engaged in work which involves a series of different processes, may or may not be working more productively. In customer service scenarios, the work may become difficult, particularly if people have to talk over the music.

Pros

  • The use of music is sometimes a creation of an environment, especially for music lovers. They do respond particularly well, and very productively to the presence of their favorite music, and enjoy the freedom to listen to it.
  • Another aspect of the musical environment is the drop in absenteeism. Music lovers use their music to remove distractions, and help them concentrate, by balancing out other noises, like printers, cash registers, or other irritants.
  • Happier workers are not only more productive, they also tend have much lower rates of absenteeism. The workplace is seen as friendlier, and less oppressive than both the old silent, formal environment.
  • Music is also seen as an antidote to the high pressure, noisy workplace. These workplaces are stressful on a subconscious level, intruding even when people are quite used to those environments and don't consciously notice them. Music effectively "jams" the other noises, reducing stress.

The bottom line

Consideration, courtesy and common sense cover most of the negative issues raised by music in the workplace. Music usually does operate as a positive influence and does increase productivity, according to most experts, as long as the effects of its use are positive and don't infringe on others. Music is also generally considered OK in the modern workplace by employers, provided it's not actually intruding on the work.

However, there are some real social issues which need to be considered when listening to your preferred music:

Preferred Working Style issues:
These are very important considerations. There are as many Preferred Working Styles as people in any workplace, and demarcation of territory is a basic right. The only viable option is "Live and let live."

Sensitivities:
Even music lovers have their own "no go" areas, with related musical etiquette. Some forms of music really do get on some people's nerves. Not everybody wants to listen to Wagner, disco, and country and western, particularly not at the same time.