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What are the benefits of listening to music at work?

Many office workers say listening to music makes them more productive at work. Photo: Good Brigade/Getty
Many office workers say listening to music makes them more productive at work. Photo: Good Brigade/Getty

Whether or not the radio should be on in the office is often a source of contention. For some, it’s nothing more than irritating. For others, music is a welcome distraction from the chatter of colleagues and helps them focus on their work.

Silence may be golden to some, but an increasing number of people say they enjoy listening to music while they work. Even music streaming services, such as Spotify, offer playlists tailored to different working environments, including offices.

But are there any benefits of listening to music at work?

A survey of more than 4,500 people by TotalJobs found 79% can boost their productivity by listening to music. According to music psychologist Dr Anneli Haake, who was involved in the research, this is partly because music can be a mental stimulant and when people become stimulated by the work they are doing, their performance can increase.

This does depend on certain factors though, such as whether one is introverted or extroverted. Those who are extroverted need more stimulation or “arousal” to reach their performance peak, whereas introverts need less.

“Enjoyed as a private activity, music in offices can be seen by employees as a perk; a positive route to personal happiness and wellbeing,” Dr Haake said. “What’s more, it’s a clever way to help manage work environments and minimise interruptions; a cost effective way to combat stress; and a positive technique for encouraging employee self-care.”

Research has also shown listening to music at work can boost mood. More than half of those polled for the TotalJobs research – 59% – said music boosts their psychological wellbeing.

Listening to music has also been shown to reduce levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol – as specifically, hearing relaxing music can help facilitate recovery from a psychologically stressful task. A 2016 study found that music-listening could also boost mood and wellbeing in older adults suffering from cognitive decline, which compared the benefits of music to those of meditation.

Music at work has also been linked to better focus and creativity. A study of 155 people published in the journal Plos One in 2017 found that listening to upbeat music enhanced participants creative “divergent thinking” and helped people come up with more original ideas.

Yet while the study linked music listening to creativity, it might not help with problem-solving. The researchers said their work “aimed to shed light on the potential association of music listening for optimising divergent and convergent creativity, and demonstrated that listening to ‘happy music’ (ie, classical music that elicits positive mood and is high on arousal) is associated with an increase in divergent thinking, but not convergent thinking.”

It’s also important to note that the benefits of listening to music while you work depend on what type of music you’re listening to. The TotalJobs research shows the most popular genre is pop, chart, folk and indie (35%), followed by rock, grunge and metal (26%).

Classical music was the least popular, with just 7% of people saying they preferred it in the workplace, despite the genre being linked to better focus.

Some companies are even producing music specifically designed to be listened to while you work to improve concentration.

FocusAtWill, an app, produces so-called “streamlined music” in order to “to alter brain activity towards a state that is more conducive to productivity”.

While encouraging music in the workplace has the potential to help wellbeing and productivity, it’s also important to make sure workers have control over when and what they listen to.

With so many of us working in open plan offices, it’s worth investing in a pair of headphones. Keep the volume down so you can hear your colleagues or your phone and try not to hum along or tap your feet too, to avoid the wrath of irritated co-workers.