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What's next, no potty breaks?
October 2, 2007 8:06 AM   Subscribe

My company just instituted a “no headphones” policy…how can I deal?

Here’s the story: one of the guys on the trading floor was wearing headphones, and didn’t answer his telephone. So they banned headphone use company-wide.

I am not on the trading floor. I manage the recruiting database. I don’t get work-related calls…ever. Everything I do is by email, IM or fax. When I do get calls (primarily from the wife), my headphones (which are actually ear buds, and no, those aren’t allowed either) aren’t noise-canceling, so I can hear the phone ring. Also, my phone is DIRECTLY in front of me, smack in the center of my eye line, under my monitor. When it rings, it also flashes and displays the caller ID.

Like many people who perform mostly data entry, my iPod is what keeps me sane and productive. Without it, I’m at sea, I can’t focus, and time…drags…on…so…slowly.

Other than quitting (hate job hunting, don’t want to look until I finish my current degree), what are my options? Do non ear-based listening devices exist, maybe that transmit sound through your body? And no, I don’t think this (link possibly NSFW) is a viable alternative…heh. Help? Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (43 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why not just wear your headphones? If it really doesn't effect your job, are you sure your manager will really give a damn?
posted by chunking express at 8:13 AM on October 2, 2007


She's the one who told me about the policy. She doesn't like it, and she won't enforce it, but if her bosses see anyone wearing headphones, there will be, and I quote, "trouble".
posted by weirdoactor at 8:15 AM on October 2, 2007


Does no headphones also mean no music? Play yours real loud. encourage others to do so also. When they complain about the cacophony, say things would be better if they allowed headphones, and dealt with the real problem... Some arsehole ignoring his job.
posted by Gungho at 8:17 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why not just purchase some little speakers that you can keep at your desk, maybe in the drawer? They are not headphones. Is there a rule against music in general, or speakers?
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:22 AM on October 2, 2007


you can wear marshmallow earplugs to cut sound in the office, if the chatter around you is annoying. as for the music, i don't know how to help you. that's a terrible policy. maybe it will cool off in a few weeks?
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:23 AM on October 2, 2007


Could you somehow wire a telephone headset to a pair of earbud headphones, so that you could listen to your iPod while appearing to be wearing a telephone headset in anticipation of phone calls? Or just wear the earbud headphones underneath the telephone headset earpieces?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:28 AM on October 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why not just wear earbuds, with one in and one out. That way you can listen to music without disturbing anyone, but you still have one free ear with which to hear the phone.
posted by Brittanie at 8:35 AM on October 2, 2007


Or:

1. Ask a manager if it would be OK to use your 'special' headphones which you have connected to your telephone in such a way that the sound of the phone ringing comes through your headphones.
2. Attach a piece of black plastic wiring between your headphones and the base of your telephone.
3. Continue as before.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:36 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Long hair, turtleneck, wire yourself under your clothes.
posted by sageleaf at 8:47 AM on October 2, 2007


go to a doctor you like. ask him to recommend you wear headphones at work, for anxiety, concentration (ADD), or to combat an equilibrium disorder.

then, if they fire you despite his recommendation, cha-ching.
posted by letahl at 8:49 AM on October 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


Wear earbuds that you have run through your shirt so the wire is mostly invisible. Grow long hair or wear a suspiciously large hat that covers your ears. For the remaining two inches of wire, um.. wear a scarf? (on preview: turtleneck! bingo)

Alternatively, wear them on only one ear. Then it's a headphone, not "headphones".
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:50 AM on October 2, 2007


One ear is also prohibited, as are speakers.

As I'm having an actual anxiety/panic attack about this (I know, I know, I'm a sad sack of shit who couldn't make it five minutes in the Olden Days), I may use the "doctor's note" method; thanks, letahl.

My hope is that when they see my team's productivity drop precipitously (and it will...trust me), the bosses will relent.

Some great ideas above, though. Thanks for the tea and sympathy.
posted by weirdoactor at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2007


Play yours real loud. encourage others to do so also. When they complain about the cacophony, say things would be better if they allowed headphones, and dealt with the real problem... Some arsehole ignoring his job..

I would strongly advise against this due to the chance they'll ban music outright. I've seen it happen and it is not a pretty sight!

OTOH, I've also seen the doctor-note method work before. An acquaintance in college got a doctor to write a note saying she needed a dog for her depression. The apartment had a no-pets policy and was forced to allow her dog in due to doctor's order...

Obviously, YMMV depending on which tactic you choose.
posted by jmd82 at 9:00 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bluetooth earbuds + hair over your ears.
posted by desjardins at 9:02 AM on October 2, 2007


Your supervisor needs to go to bat for you. Period. If they know that it's bullshit, they should step up.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:13 AM on October 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


You could spring for a bluetooth headest and pump music in from a bluetooth music player (my cell phone does this). It looks like youre just waiting on a phone call.

These are mostly silly suggestions, if your super doesnt do what i-am-a-jedi suggests then you'll have to live without it like the rest of us working slobs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:31 AM on October 2, 2007


I agree with i_am_a_Jedi. You should talk to your boss, in private, and tell her that listening to music increases your productivity and in no way negatively impacts your work. A boss's job isn't just to hand down work from above, but also to send ideas, complaints and requests back up.

Alternatively, I'm still waiting for this to come out to the general public.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Imposing a company wide rule because 1 person didn't do their job is dumb. It sounds like an ill considered reactive measure. But this is your job. They pay you and you do what they ask you to do. You could just wait it out. It will probably just blow over. I don't suggest you push this unless you consider yourself indispensable. If you don't like it, leave.
posted by Hash at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2007


If we don't stand up to stupid rules, the bosses will assume we're okay with the stupid rules and make even stupider rules. Its...sort of what's going on around us in the US. The public at large accepted the premise of being afraid of "terror" attacks post-9/11, and now we have all variety of "security theatre" being "produced" for our "entertainment.

See also, my title, (What's next, no potty breaks?); my wife asked this, because she worked for a company that said its employees were limited to two bathroom breaks per day, to be taken on their 15 minute break. That lasted, oh, about a week.

I can understand what you are saying about losing respect for an employee who brought a doctor’s note in; but I don’t think you fully understand what’s going on here. Everyone is being punished for one person’s infraction. Like in kindergarten. Why not just ban headphones on the trading floor? Why take away my one link to sanity, the one thing that keeps me from ripping my eyeballs clean out of my head, the one thing that keeps me focused, on point, on task?

I respect your right to your opinion; but in this case, I’m sorry, you’re wrong.
posted by weirdoactor at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


In response to what I assume is directed at my comment:

You are right. We should absolutely stand up to stupid rules. But, there are grown up, direct ways of standing up to stupid rules, and there are whiny "but I'm special!" ways. Getting your supervisor to go to bat for you/your team is the good, grown up way to deal with things. Getting a doctor's note... not so much.
posted by kellyblah at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2007


I know you said you don't want to leave, but I think you should. The fact that music is the only thing that "keeps you from ripping your eyeballs clean out of your head" means that this is a bad job. Seriously, quit. You shouldn't despise your work. You won't end up in the ditch. People in the ditch aren't there because they quit bad jobs.
posted by Autarky at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2007


I used to have a both-ears phone headset (from Hello Direct, I think it was) that had an A/B switch - one for the phone, one for whatever I plugged into the other input. I used it for listening to music and AV stuff on my PC, but you could plug an iPod into it as well.

Ah, here it is - or look for a "Multimedia Amp" on their site.
posted by mrbill at 10:40 AM on October 2, 2007


I know you said you don't want to leave, but I think you should. The fact that music is the only thing that "keeps you from ripping your eyeballs clean out of your head" means that this is a bad job. Seriously, quit. You shouldn't despise your work. You won't end up in the ditch. People in the ditch aren't there because they quit bad jobs.

I was shooting for "humorously hyperbolic", but failed...with music, it's a great job. Without music, it's harder/almost impossible to stay focused.
posted by weirdoactor at 10:43 AM on October 2, 2007


That lasted, oh, about a week.

This has been my universal experience with this sort of Overlords With Nothing Better To Do nonsense. I agree with i_am_a_jedi, and letahl if your supervisor won't step up to the plate, but keep in mind that if it just went down? It might not be long until it loses its legs.

Alternately, there's this Google search...
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:48 AM on October 2, 2007


The fact that music is the only thing that "keeps you from ripping your eyeballs clean out of your head" means that this is a bad job. Seriously, quit. You shouldn't despise your work. You won't end up in the ditch. People in the ditch aren't there because they quit bad jobs.

I have coding-type jobs, and until my current job, I needed headphones to function and concentrate, period. At my current job, I like the work, find it interesting, and like the people I work with -- and I haven't worn headphones since I started. Seconding the idea that needing headphones is a pretty clear sign that you can do better.
posted by davejay at 10:52 AM on October 2, 2007


Peopleware has a fairly good chapter about productivity and distraction (p 78, in the chapter "Bring Back the Door") . For non-creative (ie, rote) tasks, people listening to music do as well as people who are in a quiet environment. This is implied to be better than noise.

While this is not a heavyweight support of your case, you can use it as a justification (in your work) for improving productivity.

Then buy your boss a copy of Peopleware so she'll be a better boss.
posted by plinth at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Use black in-ear phones and put the wire down your back so very little wire shows. Then claim it's a Bluetooth / hands free system for your corporate cellphone :)
posted by wackybrit at 11:25 AM on October 2, 2007


with music, it's a great job. Without music, it's harder/almost impossible to stay focused.

So in other words, you're fucked :)

If you are non-hyperbolically unable to focus on your job without music, then by definition, you aren't doing your job. If your supervisor won't talk to the higher-ups to get an exception made for you (or at least a reasonable compromise, such as a single-ear only earbud), I can't see how this is a "great job".

If you flaunt what is inarguably a completely stupid "ban", you can get your supervisor in trouble (as well as yourself). But if you aren't exaggerating how seriously you can't focus on your work by not having music, then you aren't serving the role that your company hired you to do. Everyone loses. I hate to join the chorus of people saying "you gotta quit", but honestly, you gotta quit.

That said, ignore kellyblah. You're not being a whiny, "I'm special" kind of person, if indeed you have a real condition that a physician can diagnose which makes having music in your work environment help your concentration. I do have to admit that it seems unusual, but if you can get a doctor to justify your needs, then you're not being "childish" to take advantage of that.
posted by melorama at 11:30 AM on October 2, 2007


Adding to the voices that suggest that the problem isn't not being able to use headphones - it's the job. Either you're getting paid a TON of money to tolerate a crappy/boring job that is only tolerable when you can tune everything else out via music (sounds very solitary), or it's time to go. And even if you are making a ton of money, I'd suggest it's not enough. Take a risk and find something that doesn't require a constant distraction.
posted by FlyByDay at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2007


Either you're getting paid a TON of money to tolerate a crappy/boring job that is only tolerable when you can tune everything else out via music (sounds very solitary), or it's time to go.

Well. Not a TON. I have about a year and a half of school left, and then I'm switching to the IT/Information Security track, possibly here, possible elsewhere. This is a contract gig with no hope of becoming permanent, and no benefits through the employer (I am eligible through my agency, but it's a better deal on my wife's plan). I have it pretty good here, for a contractor; the pay is great for what is essentially just data entry, I get a lot of overtime, can work from home on occasion (if I can make that an "all the time" thing, problem solved), and they feed us and give us free beverages.

In short, this job is sort of like a high school or college boyfriend/girlfriend; I'm probably not going to marry it, but it suits me until I finish school. Actually, I was never that cavalier about relationships back then...I thought I was in love for life. But I digress. I don’t see me quitting over this…I’ve had worse jobs. Growing up, my grandfather owned a sewer plant. One summer, I worked for him. He paid me $5 an hour to shovel human feces. The worst part wasn’t the shoveling, it was knowing that my own grandfather would only pay me minimum wage + .75 cents to shovel shit.

With that sort of background, I suppose I should’ve gone into politics.
posted by weirdoactor at 12:02 PM on October 2, 2007


I don't know much about data-entry or anything at all about your company (IANACareerCounselor). But if it's the kind of place where the vast majority are just just paying the bills until their career takes off (or working part-time for just a little extra) and everyone freely talks about what other jobs they're looking for, then you can tough it out for a week and then just mention to your supervisor that you're looking at other employment options. Ask if there are any openings elsewhere in the company where the headphones-rule would not be an issue for you.
In places with high-turnover supervisors often won't go-to-bat for their employees, even over stupid policies like this, because they know 80% of them will be gone in a year anyway. But when productivity falls off, absenteeism increases and the few folks who stick around talk about leaving they will get serious about talking with their bosses when they can show they on paper the effect a policy has had and add "and these people who've stayed 3-4 times longer than average are talking about leaving too."
Of course if it's not a relatively high-turnover environment where you can openly talk about other career plans without fear of being fired, this may be risky.

I agree with others that this sounds like one of those dumb new draconian rules made by an angry boss-man that will gradually fall away as it becomes apparent it's not working out.
posted by Martin E. at 12:27 PM on October 2, 2007


A compromise has been reached:

- I can now work from home four days out of five; this has been in the works for a while, but stalled. This situation sort of...un-stalled (expedited?) that possibility. Yay.

- They are lifting the speaker ban, but you can't have it loud enough to be heard outside your "area" (?). I am getting speakers soon, says IT.

For today, I have my ear buds slung to either side of my neck, as I do when I'm on the phone, and my iPod turned up full blast. Better than nothing...
posted by weirdoactor at 1:50 PM on October 2, 2007


I'm kind of surprised nobody else has mentioned bone conduction sound systems. Here's several of them & there's probably a few more out there not in this list.
posted by scalefree at 2:59 PM on October 2, 2007


I'm kind of surprised nobody else has mentioned bone conduction sound systems.
gnomeloaf mentions them above in a google search URL.

posted by mattbucher at 3:13 PM on October 2, 2007


gnomeloaf mentions them above in a google search URL.

Missed it, my bad.
posted by scalefree at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2007


Whatever you choose, I hope it works out for you. I really just wanted to weigh-in here to mention what a different world this is. In my day, the thought of wearing headphones at work would have been absurd. Unthinkable. Now, in 2007, if an employer bans wearing headphones at work (!) there are complaints and cries of, "Leave your job!." It sounds like there is a lot of entitlements expected if one thinks they have the inherent 'right' to wear headphones on the job. Strange world, indeed.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:50 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oops....ARE a lot of entitlements.

Like I said....whatever......good luck in your career, weirdoactor. It's a mean world, ehh?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:52 PM on October 2, 2007


I'm with Gerard. In my day (I'm only 38, and my last "real" job was about 8 years ago) it would have been ridiculous to wear headphones at work. There was never a specific rule about it but I wouldn't have dared try it, and I worked in a relatively non-phone-oriented IT job.

If I had been able to wear headphones I might have stayed sane, and I might still be there today.

Thank God I wasn't wearing headphones....
posted by mmoncur at 12:47 AM on October 3, 2007


Yeah, but back in 1990 not every person in the office was sitting in front of a computer all day, isolated and alone, and scared.

So, so scared...
posted by letahl at 6:59 AM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think the way the world of work today works is that people are assigned a task and they are to perform as best they can. For certain jobs, like data entry, engaging parts of the mind that would be disengaged would allow one to delay the onset of a becoming bored and listless and would thus increase productivity. If I'm organizing meetings, answering phone calls and dealing with people, headphones off. If I've got some mundane maintenance of code to do or if the environment becomes louder than is good for my concentration, gimme my Sony MDR's.

I would have trouble imaging work as it was done 30 years ago. Was there a duty list of who was to empty the ashtrays that day? Oh, wait, no -- you guys had janitors.
posted by sleslie at 1:34 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Our local school district banned iPods and cell phones this year. My son, who has ADD, had it already written in his learning plan that he was allowed to use headphones while working in class (due in part to a teacher who didn't like headphones, earlier in his high school career). They give him the ability to concentrate he wouldn't have otherwise. A valid doctor's excuse is hardly whining; we do what we have to do to make it through the day.

I'm almost 52 and wasn't allowed to use headphones in the 80s either. Many employers are more enlightened today. That's not a bad thing.
posted by lhauser at 4:43 PM on October 4, 2007


Here's a little more info about Weirdo's company's policies. This company is in the financial services industry, where most companies block employees from using personal e-mail accounts during work hours, where sites such as Facebook are blocked at work, and where non-business internet use at work is severely proscribed. Weirdo's company, however, ALLOWS ALL OF THESE THINGS in an attempt to accommodate employee needs in today's environment to get some personal things accomplished during a hectic work life. Moreover, Weirdo himself is allowed to work from home three days a week, where he can wear (or not wear) whatever he wants, including headphones.

But headphones in the workplace are a different matter. They isolate a person from their work environment. They make others unsure about approaching the wearer. And they are highly visible to visitors, customers, and investors who come into our workspace and who develop the wrong impressions (and have commented negatively on it).

For those of you who cannot imagine getting through a workday without listening to iPods, your employment choices are going to be somewhat limited. Those employers who pay the best and provide strong career opportunities are largely going to be off limits to you.

But, hey . . . choices. Isn't that what life is all about?
posted by NowNow at 7:07 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


While this will cost some money....forward your work phone to your cell phone.

Buy an iPhone or KRZR or any other mp3 player phone.

Put your headset on for your phone. Point out, its not headphones, its a phone headset because you *REALLY* don't want to miss any phone calls. They'll have no way to tell you to stop listening to music, and you very possibly can deduct the cost of the upgrade (I am not a tax lawyer, but there is a deduction for professional expenses for items related to work).

--Michael

PS (Most phones in companies forward...look up the model number of the phone to learn how).
posted by gte910h at 2:00 PM on October 9, 2007


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