Music in offices

Is music in offices good or bad for employees?

In 2010, I completed the first ever PhD thesis about music listening in offices. My doctoral research showed that music in offices can be distracting while working, but can also help to manage other distractions in the office environment. Music can be relaxing when employees choose to listen, but annoying when imposed. Even though music is often subordinate to work activities, it can nevertheless be important in many different situations, for many different reasons.

Music in offices is for some employees important in order to manage the auditory office environment and its distractions, to manage mood and internal thought processes, to accompany tedious work tasks and to inspire them. There are many contextual aspects that needs to be taken into account when employees listen at work (e.g. other people present, potential impact on organisation, demands relating to the job role), and these aspects shape and modify their listening patterns.

The most important thing is to have control over what you are listening to and if you are listening or not. Being forced to listen to music when working can be both annoying and stressful.

In 2016, I worked on a UK-based project called Sound of Productivity, where I helped design a tool for people to test whether they would benefit from music in offices or not. This tool took into account background factors (personality, habits, attitudes to silence) and situational factors (attention capacity, music taste, music control, task complexity, task confidence).

The findings demonstrated that the majority of people would benefit from listening to music at work, and that some workspaces tend to hinder people’s productivity. However, not all professions and sectors allow for music listening.

Read the full Sound of Productivity report here.

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