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Does Music at Work Help?

April 19, 2018

Perhaps your office plays music out loud, or every now and again you plug in the headphones.


Is this actually good for our work, or do we just welcome the distraction knowing very well that it’s more about fun than output?


The first studies into the effects of music on employees were conducted in the 1950s on factory workers. Since then there have been dozens more, often offering different outcomes.


The underlying issue is that listening to music while working constitutes multitasking, which decreases our ability to closely focus on any single objective.


But this can be good as well as bad.






A study by Teresa Lesiuk at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami found IT specialists who listened to music completed simple tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn't. 


Surgeons, according to a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, are particularly fond of listening to music on the job too. Reportedly, they have a tendency to work more accurately while listening to music which they like. Interestingly, the second-best option is music they don’t like. Apparently, no music at all proved to be the least helpful option.


This tells us that’s its not necessarily down to the complexity of the task people are working on.


The surprising fact here is that some people work better at complex tasks while multi-tasking, as opposed to focusing in silence.


But it depends what you listen to. Further studies show that the more complex the task, the fewer lyrics help. Lyrics help people more on repetitive or mundane tasks – distraction brings relief, and you therefore continue with what you’re doing for longer.


So does this mean that music is good for everyone, providing they choose the right tracks?


The number of brain areas activated by music varies from person to person, depending on your musical training and your personal experiences with music. Therefore, how music impacts your ability to concentrate, or feel a certain emotion, can be expected to vary from person to person, too.


The key is control, according to Dr Anneli Haake, who has a PhD in music psychology. "When people choose to listen there can be positive effects - it can be relaxing and help manage other distractions such as noise. But when it's imposed, they can find it annoying and stressful," she says. In these cases, the music should be off. 


You can shut your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.


Finally, let’s not forget something very important. Music can help people have fun, give everyone a talking point, and allow us to feel connected to the world outside of the office. It adds to personal identity, and helps lessen the divide between ‘work’ and ‘me’.


Retaining talent in a business should be a key goal for all companies. Pressing PLAY might just help that.





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