Whistle While You Work: How Music in the Workplace Affects Your Productivity
Bob Marley once said “One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain”. Now whilst whistling away to ‘No woman no cry’ might not be pain-free for your nearby colleagues, or in fact anyone, it’s scientifically proven that listening to certain melodies stimulates brain activity and can help boost productivity in the workplace.
Recent studies by Dr David Lewis of Mindlab International show that nine out of ten workers performed better at work-based tasks when listening to music. In the same study, the participants were found to complete their jobs faster, with more accuracy and probably the most important finding of all – they were happier. This is due to the music stimulating a release of dopamine into the brain. Frequently dubbed “the happy hormone”, dopamine is responsible for the positive feelings you experience when eating a favourite food, buying a new TV, or being told that the annoying guy you dislike in Accounting has been moved to another branch… although this news would probably be a larger release of dopamine than any Justin Bieber classic ever could.
With the current trend for open plan and collaborative office space, the lure of putting your headphones in and listening to a favourite song might be a welcome relief from the otherwise noisy office sounds, especially if everyone is on the phone at the same time. Another study by Veronica Galván found that background noise, rather than music, is one of the worst offenders for distraction. She showed that only hearing one side of a phone call can cause the brain to subliminally try and piece together the other side of the conversation – resulting in less concentration on whatever task is underway. When your brain is distracted it struggles just that little bit more to process things. So if you’re in a creative line of work, be sure to have dibs on the office boom box to help you through your projects!
A point of contention is perhaps not whether you are listening to music or not; it’s what genre you’re listening to.
Here is a list of the most common genres and which type of jobs they’re good for:
Commonly listened to by medical surgeons, the lack of lyrics is a popular choice for those who have a heavy workload or require intense concentration for extended periods of time. Your heartbeat will sync to the slow, measured rhythm of the music and you can focus on not accidentally removing the wrong limb. I might choose something from the Baroque period.
Fitting our need for ‘present but unobtrusive’, this genre tends to be upbeat but repetitive. It should keep even the dullest job requirements going – suggested for drivers, factory workers or office personnel working away to an Excel workbook. These songs often have a focus, which in turn will help yours.
With catchy lyrics and a repetitive melody, creative workers will benefit from listening to the charts. Proving a mild distraction, it supposedly improves your brain’s creative function – plus, who hasn’t been inspired by the lines of a top 10 hit. If lyrics leave you more likely to be listening than working, try white noise instead, which has been said to filter and block out distracting noises.
You can find different styles of rock, such as alternative, indie and even death metal. However, unless you’re feeling particularly angry that day, do try and avoid death metal, as it will probably only work for die-hard fans. The rock genre reportedly causes listeners to interpret neutral expression as negative ones, potentially leading to unnecessary friction. Listening to music you enjoy can boost your mood, but blaring System of a Down is unlikely to win your office over.
Office culture is an important aspect at the work place and as everyone is diverse with different tastes, I’d recommend sticking to a mild/moderate volume with a fairly ambient tone. You’ll soon be working harder, more efficiently and hopefully bring a more positive vibe to the rest of your team. This should be music to your boss’s ears!