Workplace music research
May 26, 2006 12:25 AM   Subscribe

My employer recently banned listening to music at work. Anyone know of any research related to the effects music has at the workplace?

We are isolated from non-employees and only use headphones so it's not an actual problem. We are an academic institution so I was thinking I could convince them with some research. I have looked around a bit, but does anyone else know of any research in this area? Help!
posted by rhyax to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not research as asked, but just to clarify perhaps -- It would depend on what level of distraction music played (pun intended) on the job at hand. I could see it being banned in say, a high school orchestra director's position (as it would clash chords and be off beat and irritating) but not for like factory workers who only hear the humdrum of machines the whole day. What are the terms of the music ban, and could you sneak by with a technicality?
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:02 AM on May 26, 2006


I don't have any research for you either, but I'd also be interested in hearing the rationale/terms for this music ban. If it's as you say and people are listening via headphones, I can't see the reasoning behind the ban?

Perhaps you should raise this with your superiors, as it could be that the ban was instigated due to loud music via speakers and your headphone-based music is actually ok.

I work in a communal academic workspace and I know I'd go stir crazy if I didn't have my headphones to keep me focussed when marking... I feel for you!
posted by ranglin at 1:36 AM on May 26, 2006


Maybe the problem isn't the music but the headphones. Even if you don't require teamwork to do your particular job, maybe they think that being in your own world with headphones on takes away from office "camaraderie". And people have to throw things at you to get your attention.

On preview, what ranglin said.
posted by QueSeraSera at 1:41 AM on May 26, 2006


Is the ban actually on music? If so, that means you could listen to talk radio, documentaries, plays, poetry, podcasts, audiobooks etc.

Could you protest by listening to those things, at least forcing them to clarify the ban or admit that it's a bit random? If listening to anything at work is banned, and a bird starts singing outside your window, what should you do?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:18 AM on May 26, 2006


A million years ago I was working in a company that owned a record label that piped music to all the offices. It was horrible and was immpossible to turn off. It was musak - elevator music. I noticed that the music kind of set moods - it was fairly jolly first thing in the morning and then seemed to mellow out, livening up at lunch break and then mellowing out again until 1645 when it started getting jumpy to get people to pack up and go home. This background musak was actively marketed to large offices and factories so there must have been a good selling point - to keep the worker drones working I guess. I've never seen any studies but they must exist. As I haven't lived in a corporate environment for over 30 years I don't know if this still goes on.
posted by adamvasco at 3:58 AM on May 26, 2006


Hmm, I believe there is some connection with baroque tempo (60 beats per minute I think) and enhanced learning.... If I were investigating this I'd start with baroque, tempo and brain in Google Scholar.
posted by Pigpen at 4:13 AM on May 26, 2006


adamvasco: yes
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:15 AM on May 26, 2006


livening up at lunch break and then mellowing out again until 1645 when it started getting jumpy to get people to pack up and go home.

That doesn't seem to make much sense. After lunch is usually the time of day when most employees slow down. Surely it'd have made more sense for the music to be jumpy at that point in a bid to wake everyone up and get them working? Then you'd want to chill out the music at 1645 because you've just sapped them for all they're worth ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 4:46 AM on May 26, 2006


There's probably lots of research out there supporting the notion that happy employees do good work. Isn't that what it comes down to?

Anyway, they've taken away a perk of the job that was part of an implicit contract. Demand compensation.
posted by jon_kill at 6:25 AM on May 26, 2006


Yup, a recent study that gets referenced quite a bit is "The effect of music listening on work performance" byTeresa Lesiuk of the University of Windsor, Canada. Published in the Psychology of Music, Vol. 33, No. 2, 173-191 (2005), if you can find it. If not, this is a summary with full text available for the low, low price of $25.00 cheap.

In case you want the executive summary of the summary (and to maintain my rep for quoting passages every other reply), here's the meaty intro:

"This study measured the effect of music listening on state positive affect, work quality and time-on-task of computer information systems developers. Effects of music on work performance, in this case, software design, may be explained by increases in state positive affect. Data from 56 (male = 41, female = 15) developers were obtained from four different Canadian software companies. Data were collected in the participants’ actual work environments over five weeks. Results indicated that state positive affect and quality-of-work were lowest with no music, while time-on-task was longest when music was removed..."
posted by mdevore at 6:58 AM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


This may help as well.

"Office workers should tune in and turn on, according to a University of Illinois researcher."

"Oldham gave 75 out of 256 workers at a large retail company the personal stereos to wear at work for four weeks and then measured the results.

Headphone-wearers exhibited a 10-percent jump in productivity and were 'less nervous, less fatigued, more enthusiastic and more relaxed at work than the people in the control group,' Oldham said. "

Also, an article discounting the safety measures afforded by anti-headphone bicyclist laws. I'm not sure I believe it, but it might prove useful to you anyways...
posted by shepd at 7:07 AM on May 26, 2006


rhyax, check your mail. I sent an electronic copy of the article mdevore was pointing out. It looks like a really interesting article...
posted by whatzit at 7:26 AM on May 26, 2006


hmph. or not - the address in your profile is bouncing. if you want a copy of it, email me and I'll send it on.
posted by whatzit at 7:30 AM on May 26, 2006


Adamvasco, that reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me. She was working in an office pushing paper during the summers while in college to pay the bills. She was a film student and a very creative type. She said that the phones had a feature where you could play the muzak the customer's hear on hold through the speaker phone like a radio, and lots of people did that, so that there was constantly muzak playing throughout the office.

She described this as soul-destroying. A little bit at a time. Hearing it just made her sad and angry and frustrated. Until one day... it changed. Someone had switched the muzak player and now instead of bland adult contemporary it was playing really good classic rock; bands she knows and loves. David Bowie, Queen, that sort of thing I think. She said it was like a light bulb switched on in her head. She was so happy and cheerful and got ten times as much work done as she normally does.

The next day they learned there had been a complaint from a customer who was on hold. Back to muzak. She was crushed.

I recall a similar story about my brother, a jazz saxophone student, who was working at a supermarket. Uptempo music came on, he was dancing while he worked... then a customer complained and it went back to muzak.

Now some people obviously like muzak - the customers who complained, for example. And as tempted as I am to say they have bad taste, who am I to judge? But I am intrigued that both of these stories involved creative-type music-lovers, who perhaps were more sensitive to being forced to listen to music they didn't care for.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:56 AM on May 26, 2006


Dairy cows produce more milk when music is played. Though, to be fair, the researcher notes a confound: he also gave them beer. More study is clearly needed.
I worked on a dairy farm for a few years, and having had cows growing up, I can attest they really do let their milk down better when music is playing - slow fiddle music seemed to work best
posted by Rumple at 9:20 AM on May 26, 2006


I could see it being banned in say, a high school orchestra director's position (as it would clash chords and be off beat and irritating) but not for like factory workers who only hear the humdrum of machines the whole day.

(slight off-topic comment)

um, no ... people who are listening to music (especially on headphones) in a factory can't hear things like forklifts or people trying to get their attention because something's going on that could affect their safety ... and with a noise floor of 85 to 90 decibels, it would have to be very loud to hear ... especially when one is wearing the required earplugs for that environment

this is why the factory i work at doesn't allow music on the shop floor ... it's dangerous and could damage your hearing further
posted by pyramid termite at 10:56 AM on May 26, 2006


The rationale is apparantly that it isn't professional, although since we don't deal with (or see) non-employees I don't know how much credibility that has. It's hard to say what the real reason is, we haven't really been given one, sadly. Thanks for all your link-help though! And just so you can feel better about where you work, it's not just music but spoken-word as well, with headphones or with speakers. And our managers agree we should have music, the problem is a few levels higher.
posted by rhyax at 6:54 PM on May 26, 2006


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