Why music at work increases your productivity, backed by science.

April 1, 2016

With more and more mobile devices and music stream services available, music is entering the workplace, in a BIG way. Without a doubt, we are seeing an increasing number of companies that allow employees to listen to music and some of them even incentivize it.  

But the question, hangs in the air: Is it smart for companies to allow their workforce to listen to music at work or do they make a huge mistake and reduce productivity because of it? We did some research to help you answer the question.

Music makes people feel happy

Looking at the research on the effect of music listening on work performance from Teresa Lesiuk, assistant professor in the Music Therapy Program at the University of Miami, we see that music at work makes people complete their tasks faster and come up with better ideas than those who don’t listen to music. “It breaks you out of just thinking one way”, says Lesiuk. In one of the studies she found that music improves the mood of workers and being happy means being more efficient and productive. Music can release dopamine in the same way that eating something delicious, looking at a beautiful view or smelling a pleasant aroma does. “When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention”, whereas when you are in a good mood, “you’re able to take in more options.”.

Better results

Mindlab International did a research commissioned by MusicWorks on music at work and conducted an experiment where 26 participants had to accomplish a series of different tasks five days in a row. Some participants listened to different genres of music while doing these tasks and some didn’t listen to music at all. The results showed that nine out of ten workers accomplished tasks more efficiently when listening to music. 88% of the participants produced most accurately test results and 81% completed their fastest work when music was played. The most mistakes were made when no music was played.

An important point to increase efficiency is the type of music that is played. Different genres work better or worse for different types of work. The test showed that classical music works best for mathematical tasks, ambient music improves data-entry accuracy, dance music should be played while proofreading and pop music is the best choice for working quickly and accurately.

In this video Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis talks about the results of the experiment.

Why people like music at work

The results above are the scientific proof that music at work does actually have a positive impact on productivity. But why do people like to listen to music at work?

For many, they just want to stay focus. Offices can be quite noisy sometimes and it’s almost impossible to avoid hearing the office chit chat,  the calls and ad hoc meetings as well as the keyboard noise from all your coworkers. Headphones can be a great escape and a great way to stay focus.

For others it is just too quiet in the office. They need to hear some background noise to feel comfortable, otherwise they would get distracted by the silence.

When you need to accomplish a task with full concentration, it is better to not get interrupted by coworkers. Those won’t approach you as much if they see you are wearing headphones.

Music can also give you an extra boost when in the middle of the well known “creative blocks”. Turn on some beats and let creativity flow.

Noise level, speed, key

After five different experiments, scientist found out that a moderate level (70 dB) of ambient noise is perfect for working efficiently. If you work with a high level of noise it reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs your creativity.

If you want to know more about the conducted experiments take a look at this article.

Tempo also impacts how much music helps you while working. If a song has 60 beats per minute, it reduces the feeling of stress and causes more physical relaxation according to researchers from BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore.

Finally, music in a major key also makes people feel happier and stay more concentrated compared to music in a minor key. A great example is the song “Kokomo”, from The Beach Boys.

Disadvantages of music at work

Of course there are some drawbacks of listening to music while working or studying:

1. Headphones might be great to signal that you are focus and don’t want to be interrupted. However, your coworkers can get irritated if you are always with your headphones on and not available for some team work or answer some questions.

2. While you are learning or studying, music doesn’t allow you to absorb information as fast as you could if you were studying in silence.

3. If you are forced to listen to music you don’t like at your workplace, it won’t improve your productivity, it can actually cause the opposite effect.

To sum it up, when we want to listen to music at work we need to choose carefully the type of music and make sure we respect everyone work style.

For some inspiration, here is an extract of the playlist our TOPDOXers listen to in the office.

Music comes from creative inspiration, so listening to it might inspire your own creativity as well and might make new ideas flow.

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