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To Keep the Beat: Is Music Good for Employee Productivity?

September 5, 2018

One day, you call one of your employees sitting across the room, only to be ignored and not get the expected response. After summoning him several times to no avail, you decide to approach him directly to his cubicle. You find him staring at his PC intensely with his head rocking softly, his mouth muttering something inaudible: apparently he is working while plugging in his earphone. Does this situation look familiar?

Music at work is not something new. In a study commissioned by Totaljobs, Dr. Anneli Haake, a music psychologist stated that in 1930s, recorded music was often used to improve productivity as well as reducing boredom and fatigue. Not only that, music is also claimed to help people to synchronize their movements and make the day go quicker. At this point, we can see how music has a positive impact on employee productivity.

However, not all music is created equal. Some offices do not allow employees to listen to music at all when working because they are worried that this will bring distraction and make employees less focused on their work. This is certainly not without reason. According to an article featuring Teresa Lesiuk, associate professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Miami, different types of music will have different effects on the listener.

She said that 90 percent people have positive experiences when listening to whatever kind of music they prefer and listening to such music often produces mild and positive moods. Being in that frame of mind can be helpful for getting work done as they can be better at problem solving and thinking creatively, she added. However, if an artist’s music is especially dissonant or the tempo is extreme such as EDM or heavy metal, that could create some distractions for employees at work.

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It is true that some people find music beneficial to help them focus on their task and be more productive. However, many others might find music distracting and even feel that it hinders them from concentrating on their task. So what factors could influence whether music is perceived as distracting or not? Dr. Haake did a research on this matter and identified several crucial factors that determine whether music could boost or bust employee’s productivity:

  1. Musical structure. Music with more complex structure could be more distracting than those with simpler ones. This means that it is not necessarily instrumental vs vocal music that influences whether music is distracting or not, but rather how the music is constructed.
  2. There is no do doubt that lyrics could disturb your focus, especially if they trigger certain thoughts and associations. This could be harmful when you need to do something that requires full concentration and train of thoughts.
  3. Musical training. Those with musical training may be more likely to listen more closely to the musical structure, timbre, rhythm and so on.
  4. Listening habits. This is a very important factor. If employees are used to listening to music while working, they will feel less distracted. And vice versa.
  5. Task complexity. If an employee is unfamiliar with the task, they are more likely to perceive the music as distracting.
  6. Sense of control. When employees are forced to listen to certain kind of music, the music will often feel distracting and annoying to their ears. However, when they can decide for themselves what they want to hear, they are more likely to find music beneficial.

Most people will agree that music is more than just a voice that fills the silence and a form of leisure. More than that, playing the right music in the right time and situation can improve the mood and set the tone for the day as well as helping your employees achieve optimum productivity.

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