Music Breaks Me Out Of The Silence Of My Cubicle Prison

Your iPod probably comes with you to the gym, the train and the beach, but should it come with you to the office? Does music in the workplace increase productivity, or does it actually decrease concentration?

There have been a few studies on this subject with varying results. A 1972 study (Fox & Embrey) concluded that listening to background music helps improve efficiency of performing a repetitive task. A 2005 study (Lesiuk) concluded that the effect of music on work performance may be due to the positive feelings it creates. According to this study, music creates a “positive mood change and enhanced perception of design.” Another study in 2005 (le Roux) concluded that music improves the sense of team and alertness. It also motivates workers and decreases boredom.

Still other studies concluded music has no effect on productivity, or actually hinders concentration. On the HR Daily Advisor website, BLR Founder and CEO Bob Brady says, “The office is for work, and anything that reduces concentration is unwelcome. Productivity suffers if music is on, and I try to do work.”

So how does the average worker feel? Personally, I disagree with Brady. I believe music is an important part of my workplace happiness, and my increased happiness simultaneously increases my productivity. Silence, on the other hand, makes me feel like I’m in a cubicle prison. Silence makes work feel like work.

In an extremely informal poll in my office, I asked coworkers if having music in the workplace elevates their mood. An overwhelming 15 out of 16 said yes. The coworker who said no concluded that music at work can alter her mood both for the best and the worst, depending on the tone of the songs.

I next asked my coworkers if they believe music in the workplace boosts their productivity. Fourteen said yes, one said no and one was unsure.

Of the coworkers who voted yes, one said, “It helps me zone into my work. I become less distracted and more focused.”

If you have attention problems or your mood is affected by music, here are some things to consider:

  • Listen to only instrumental music. If you are performing “language” tasks (reading, proofreading, etc.), you may need to listen to music that doesn’t include words. I find it less distracting to listen to music on the office stereo than on my iPod because the music seems more like “background” music.
  • Listen to music you enjoy. If you’re having a bad day, Coldplay could send you over the depressing edge. If you’re feeling anxious, techno mixed with coffee could give you the jitters or cause irritability. Consider choosing music that will enhance your mood instead of making you sad or stressed.

My advice is that if music helps you, listen to it! But if it hurts your concentration, silence is golden. It’s really up to the individual (or your Human Resources department).

Photo: NBC

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    • Andrew

      Good advice!

      I completely agree with the instrumental music bit – but as it turns out – your second point – “listen to music you enjoy” is probably more critical to performance.

      I wrote up a summary of a recent study by Dr. Anneli Haake on music in the workplace here:

      Seems that having control over the environment is critical. Clearly Brady has never “heard” of headphones – or the radical concept that people might – god forbid – be different from him!!!


    • Didi

      Too true. If I win this new pimp my cube contest, then the first thing I’m hoping contest factory give me, is decent sound system. Hypothetically, I wouldn’t mind a sound proof cubicle, but I know that maybe that’s going too far. Alas, music does help me out in a major way.