Internal needs

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To cite or reference this content, please use the following reference:

Haake, A. B. (2010). Music listening in offices: Balancing internal needs and external considerations (Doctoral thesis, University of Sheffield, Sheffield) accessed from www.musicatwork.net

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Three themes emerged in the analysis of internal needs:

  1. Managing internal and external environment (theme 1)
  2. Enjoyment of music (theme 2)
  3. Spontaneous selections (theme 3).

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Theme 1: Managing internal and external environment

Interviewees tended to describe the effects of music at work in three distinct ways: as a negative distraction from work; as a welcomed distraction; and as a way to block out other distractions.

Managing internal and external environment

We used to have a thrash metal fan in the team, (laughs) it used to get a little bit fraught. Because I don’t actually find thrash metal all that helpful to work to. I have no idea what he was playing. I did ask him occasionally. It just went in through one ear and out through the other. Unfortunately the thrash metal didn’t do the same thing, it rattled the brain around in there.

I probably listen to it much quieter in the office. Just because of that ability to concentrate. Otherwise I would just end up listening to the music and not doing any work.

When interviewees did a task they felt familiar and confident with, they also felt they had a greater attention capacity (i.e. not too much attention was taken up by the task). This meant they felt bored more easily, which resulted in internal interruptions like day dreaming and intrusive thoughts. Music listening was a strategy to manage these internal interruptions.

For me, there’s a certain comfort zone that is created by music. And that blocks out people yacking in the next office and people shouting at each other in the corridor, and other people’s problems and vehicles arriving outside. It does filter those distractions out, I think. It is giving me total control of my aural environment, yes. And I find I can actually concentrate. I find myself concentrating, and focus more.

Participants also managed external interruptions from colleagues (social external interruptions) through listening to music, as the presence of music in the workplace was a way of sending out a “Do not disturb” sign. The sign could be visual (in the case of using headphones) as well as aural (in the case of listening via speakers).

Theme 2: Experiences of enjoyment

Interviewees felt that being able to listen to music at work was important for them. Music made them feel good; it was considered to be a positive experience.

It feels like the hair is standing up. Do you know what I mean by that? I don’t know if you have ever experienced that real kind of warm feeling. I don’t know where it is. It is in your stomach, probably, or probably not. It is probably in your pancreas… But I feel, I don’t know if any one else does, a physical feeling of almost elation. A little bit like that first drink. (laughs) These are the indicators that music is influencing me in a positive way, certainly.

A note on music preferences

When music listening in offices is discussed in general media, there is often a particular interest in the actual preference of music; are certain artists or genres more suited to a working environment? Can listening to Mozart actually result in higher productivity? The process of selecting music is a central aspect in the discussion of music at work.

The themes in this study revealed a compromising process between internal needs and external considerations, which takes place within the listener. This means that music selection occurs in many different ways and for many different reasons.

Most interviewees stated that they listened to the same music at home as at work. As Patrick put it; “Anything that I would listen to at home I would be happy to listen to at work.” They chose certain music when they wished to achieve something – whether that was consideration of colleagues, concentration for themselves, awareness of their surroundings or other factors. Certain types of music and/or certain artists were perceived as more suited in some instances. But as most interviewees brought music with them from home, environments outside work provided the foundation for music selection for work. Thus, all music that they listened to at work they also listened to at home, but there was music that some of them did not bring to work.

Some interviewees had certain music genres that they preferred, and described them in a detailed manner. Other interviewees, like John, did not express any particular music preferences at work. For John, it was extremely important to have music on, but it appears to be less important what kind of music it was.

It was clear from the themes that emerged out of the interviews that control of music was seen as very important, and perceived control was linked to whether employees found music distracting or not. But it is also important to note that many interviewees sometimes listened to radio. Interviewees in this study sometimes preferred and chose radio at work for various reasons; wanting variety, not wanting (or having sufficient time) to carefully select music, perceiving radio as more neutral (i.e., less imposing) and less isolating.

The only situation where music is completely non-chosen is when music is being imposed onto a colleague, and this was experienced as very irritating by the receiver.

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