Background music in the workplace has been a point of contention over the years, especially in the age when Muzak became a part of pop culture. Over 50 years ago, music playing in offices was usually unheard of, with perhaps some attempts in allowing radios under certain circumstances. For the most part, those radios were turned on only when something significant was happening in the news. It’s amazing, though, that the older generation of corporate workers didn’t go mad with the sound of dissonant typewriters and not a shred of a song to listen to during the day.
Back then, with better job security, there was probably enough contentment where they could survive without music. Since those days, the generations working in corporations have progressively turned much less happy and don’t always have enough stimulus activity to feel inspired.
With music proven to help release dopamine in the brain so people feel good, what kind of music policy should you have in the workplace? Should there be a collective soundtrack everyone listens to, or should employees have a right to listen to their own playlists through earphones?
Pumping Music Throughout the Building
In some cases, a business may want to play a certain kind of music that sets a specific mood for customers. This can be risky with employees because it may be a style they despise. Some businesses, for instance, play classical or jazz all day long when one or more of their employees will likely hate listening to both. Conversely, perhaps you’re a business turning up Top 40 or Metal to attract a certain demographic. At least one of your employees may find it distracting while trying to help customers or while working at a desk.
When enacting a music policy like this, be sure that everyone is on the same page about whether they can hack listening to one musical style all day. Classical music that’s not overly bombastic is usually the best compromise since there’s very few who bristle at listening to a concerto or string quartet for eight hours.
As far as the most annoying: Smooth jazz seems to be the modern day nails on a chalkboard more than any music genre, even when used as waiting music on the phone.
Allowing Music Through Headphones
The New York Times did a piece a couple of years ago about music in the workplace and mentioned how many companies are allowing employees to play music of their choosing through headphones or earbuds. It’s helped bring happier workers who can listen to what they want in their cubicles without disturbing anyone around them and inspiring more productivity. Regardless, it can cause its own problems if the employee keeps playing music constantly throughout the day. It could decrease decent communication with other employees and be perceived as going off into their own internal world.
Those perceptions are going to depend on you as a manager and how you want your employees to work around the office. The New York Times piece above noted that most people aren’t going to be listening to music constantly anyway and only during specific tasks to get them motivated. If you have to enact some kind of music policy (and most companies reportedly don’t), your best compromise is perhaps setting reasonable limitations on how much music the employee should listen to while working.
In the above situation, you may have certain parts of the day that require more employee conferral than other times. A balance like this can prevent you from looking in on a cubicle and noticing an employee facing the dreaded madness of corporate prison.