Survey conclusions

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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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Both qualitative and quantitative data point to a picture of music as fulfilling a wide variety of functions in post-industrial office settings, which differ from historical accounts of music both before and during industrialisation. Music in offices were not used to aid physical synchronisation or to communicate about work itself, as found by historical accounts of pre-industrial work contexts (Gregory, 1997; Korczynski, 2003). Nor was music used to express experiences of work, which Korczynski (2007) found in factory settings during the mid-twentieth century.

Music listening in the modern office workplace has many different functions: affect management, engaging in/escaping from work activities, and environment/interruption management. Music listening did not only take place while employees were carrying out simpler routine tasks. Employees also listened to music while doing more complicated tasks, not previously associated with music listening, such as word processing tasks.

An important dimension for respondents was inspiration; they listened to music at work to become more creative and stimulated. Music listening could sometimes be distracting in a negative sense, and some respondents found certain musical parameters could be particularly distracting. These findings can be interpreted as being broadly in line with the idea of an inverted U-relationship between performance quality and arousal (Kahneman, 1973; Konecni, 1982).

However, results also suggest that distraction is not always conceptualised as negative – as has been suggested in previous literature (Furnham & Bradley, 1997; Furnham & Strbac, 2002; Furnham et al., 1999). Instead, distraction emanating from music could often be a welcome break from thoughts and daydreams.

Experiences of control have emerged in the data as a powerful and important aspect of music listening as relaxation. Music provided respondents with a sense of control over their surroundings and emotions. They could manage external interruptions, as well as vent emotions through the music. Music also distracted employees from their own thoughts, which could be relaxing, and also brought a sense of leisure into their working environment, which they often found soothing.

The more stressed employees were, the more they agreed that music at work helped them to relax. This finding is consistent with ideas that listening to self-selected music can have therapeutic benefits for individuals as it can help to increase self-consciousness, reduce feelings of isolation and improve control over emotional reactions (Batt-Rawden & DeNora, 2005; Ruud, 1997). In other words, music listening at work seems to be an important coping strategy to alleviate stress in offices.

As mentioned earlier, some commercial music suppliers target employees to provide classical music for stress relief in offices. Data suggest that classical music is being listened to in offices, but that employees also listen to many other music styles and artists. Listening to classical music was not necessarily related to greater levels of relaxation. Data from the survey suggest that there are no strict boundaries in terms of music use between work and leisure. This was evident when looking at technology use and music preference in offices. Listening technology used in the workplace resembles that used by adults in daily life (radio, CD-player through computer, and internet), and music preferences at work seems to mirror music trends outside of work, which opposes any ideas of the existence of particular “office music”. This finding is similar to the results found by Greasley (2008) in the daily lives of adults, in that a wide variety of music was listened to.

On average, respondents listened to music for a third of their working week. This result is congruent with the findings of non-academic surveys of employee listening behaviour (AOL.co.uk, 2007; Spherion, 2006), in which respondents reported listening for about three hours per day, but there are no academic surveys to compare findings against.

The more employees listened, the more positive functions of music they reported, which challenges suggestions of a main negative effect of music while working. There were some differences in engagement levels in terms of time spent listening to music at work, and listening technology use. Respondents less engaged with music spent more time listening to music, listened more often to radio (highly engaged listened more often to MP3 players) but had less control over the music they heard. Given that control over music was viewed as an important aspect of relaxation, it would be plausible to think that less engaged respondents felt less relaxation as a result of music listening. They indeed scored lower in relaxation than highly engaged respondents, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Data on reasons for not listening to music at work showed that many respondents were worried about how their own music listening patterns affected others. They were careful to not disturb colleagues, and were concerned about how being seen to be listening to music affected the image of their company or organisation.

The data also illustrate specific situational conditions that respondents took into account, evaluated and responded to when listening to music at work. There seems to be a tension between individual desires and external requirements, a tension that employees who wanted to listen to music at work needed to manage.

Control over the music heard can be understood as influencing many of the functions that respondents reported. The importance of control has a number of implications for researchers as well as for employers. If researchers allow participants to choose the music they hear, the researchers will be able to detect a wider variety of functions and effects. Evidence for this is the fact that distraction was conceptualised by listeners not only as negative but also as concentration-enhancing, which was not detected in previous studies where the music was selected by the researchers only. It is important to also investigate the effects of imposed music, but the distinction between imposed and self-selected music has to be acknowledged first.

Turning to the implications for employers, if managers make sure to facilitate an environment, or technical solutions, where employees can have a greater level of control over music, then the experiences and outcomes should be more positive.

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