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Is Listening To Music While Working Good Or Bad? (Proven Facts)

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The debate over whether or not to allow employees to listen to music at their desks is not a new one. Some employers are lax on the subject and allow it. Others have strict rules against it, causing some employees to rebel and hide headphones under jackets and headsets. Recent studies and updated scientific data cast new light on both sides of the argument

This new information arrives just in time. With current conditions, we see more people telecommuting than ever before in the United States, and there’s no one to stop you from bopping along to your favorite tunes while you work from home. But the question remains, is it good or bad to listen to music while you’re working?

Due to the results of scientific research conducted in recent years, we finally know with certainty that listening to music while working is good—however, there are a few caveats.

 

Benefits of Listening to Music While Working

The connection between listening to music and positive work outcomes has been studied in depth for many decades. To date, there are over 70 years of study involving music and its impact on the working brain.

Listening to music provides many advantages to a person working a full shift, or even just several hours. Just as you aren’t limited to a timeframe, you aren’t limited to the genre either. Ambient and classical music have been studied for their merits, but so have modern genres that young people call their favorites.

Some of the advantages of listening to music while you work include:

  • Reducing Anxiety and Stress
  • Relieving Some Symptoms of “Pin Drop Syndrome”
  • Drowning Out a Noisy Environment
  • Has a Positive Effect on Mood
  • Increased Focus
  • Boosting Productivity
  • Improving Performance on Repetitive Tasks
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Anxiety and Stress Reduction

Stress and anxiety are an unfortunate but common part of American life.

The results of a 2017 Gallup Poll found that approximately 8 out of 10 Americans report frequently encountering stress in their daily lives.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults—that’s 18.1% of the United States population annually.

Workplace pressure, conflict, and politics can often compound these issues. However, listening to your favorite music while you work can have a fantastic calming effect, lifting some of the stress and anxiety that hangs over you.

Additionally, many positive study results suggest that classical music can have calming physiological effects; lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and even producing stress-relieving hormones in the brain.

 

Relieving Symptoms of “Pin Drop Syndrome”

You may have heard your mom or grandmas say that “silence is golden,” but is it always?

Pin Drop Syndrome is the collection of symptoms (stress, anxiety, irritability, paranoia, etc.) employees feel in an office that is quite literally so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.

The Penketh Group conducted several social media polls and received the following results:

  • 86% of Instagram respondents reported needing background noise in their office environment to be comfortable
  • Only 14% of Instagram respondents said they preferred complete silence in their office
  • 71% of Twitter respondents reported a preference for background noise
  • 0% of Twitter respondents preferred silence in the office
  • The other 29% of Twitter respondents said they liked having a choice between background noise and silence in their office environments
  • 100% of Facebook respondents agreed there is a such thing as too quiet, and they all reported a preference for background noise in their offices

Convincing the boss to install white noise machines or play light mood music over the sound system may not be realistic at every company. In fact, that won’t be realistic at most companies. Still, what you can do is pop your earbuds in and drown out the silence with your favorite tunes.

Photo by Aaina Sharma on Unsplash
Photo by Aaina Sharma on Unsplash

Drowning Out a Noisy Environment

In stark contrast to offices where employees experience Pin Drop Syndrome, some offices are so loud and boisterous that you can’t even hear yourself think, let alone get any work done.

The reason you’re unable to focus in noisy workspaces is that your brain uses most of its power, attempting to process each individual piece of auditory data it’s receiving.

This attempt at making sense of random noise also increases cortisol (the stress hormone) and reduces dopamine (the “feel-good” hormone). The change in hormone balance impacts the prefrontal cortex, affecting executive function—meaning your noisy office directly negatively impacts your focus and productivity on the job.

The best thing you can do to counteract this negative influence on your job performance is put your headphones on. Drown out all the noise with music that gets you in the zone to be productive.

 

A Positive Effect on Mood

It’s common for things to go unexpectedly at work or not get our way, even when we know we were right or had the better idea. Traffic is terrible, and trains run late, we spill coffee on our shirts, meetings go poorly, we get scolded for simple mistakes, skipped over for promotions, etc.

The one thing (besides chocolate) that can always lift your spirits when you’re feeling down about the goings-on at work is some of your favorite songs. The right music can trigger your body to release dopamine and have you feeling better before your next break.

Additionally, CBS News reported a recent study that found 61% of people who listen to music at work reported being happier in general, not just happier with work. It seems that listening to music at work may have the power to increase your overall satisfaction with life; two birds, one stone.

 

Increased Focus

As many as 1 in 4 United States adults report having trouble concentrating at times. Some of this is due to anxiety disorders and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). However, only approximately 4.4% of American adults are diagnosed with ADHD.

Music improves focus for most people who find that they have difficulty concentrating. In fact, a recent study reported that 88% of people who listened to music while working performed their tasks better and with a higher degree of accuracy than their counterparts who did not listen to music.

A Boost in Productivity

Productivity can be a scary word now, with many employers implementing quotas or productivity metrics that they expect staff to meet to remain in good standing with the company. 

Some studies report that as many as 79% of employees have been able to improve their productivity by merely listening to music while working.

Work doesn’t feel as tedious when you’re listening to your favorite songs, and time doesn’t seem to drag the way it does when you’re not listening to music. Before you know it, you’ve knocked out everything you needed to do, and it’s almost time for a break or even the end of the day.

 

Improved Performance on Repetitive Tasks

We’ll discuss momentarily when listening to lyrical music can be a bad thing. However, lyrical music provides a needed small distraction when working on repetitive tasks to keep you from completely tuning out of what you’re doing and making mistakes.

Listening to music allows you to perform repetitive tasks more quickly with higher accuracy. Applied Ergonomics published a study that suggested background music allowed people performing repetitive tasks to work more efficiently.

The journal of Psychology of Music released research in 2005 that revealed software developers produced a higher quality of work and experienced increased efficiency when listening to music while working.

According to a study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, even surgeons are affected by the power of music. This study found that surgeon efficiency and accuracy is improved by background music. Furthermore, music selected by the surgeon showed the best results.

 

Caveats

While listening to music when working is generally a good thing, there are a few times when listening to music while working is bad. Those situations include:

  • When You’re Trying to Learn
  • When You’re Listening to New Music

 

Trying to Learn

Listening to music, especially music with lyrics, is one of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to learn a new activity or task, particularly if you’re learning via reading or verbal instruction.

Learning processes require a lot of the brain; it must analyze, remember, and recall both facts and instructions. If you’re listening to music while learning, the brain must deal with your auditory input on top of everything it’s doing in an attempt to learn your new task.

Multitasking of this nature can cause crossed wires and improper interpretation of the facts and instructions you’re receiving. The brain may make inappropriate associations or mistakes about which information is important enough to keep in your memory.

 

Listening to New Music

The act of listening to new music has an aspect of novelty or surprise. In response to this excitement, your body releases dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good hormone.” You can see how quickly listening to the new music might become far more interesting than whatever work task that had your attention previously.

Listening to new music can be a dangerous distraction and a significant productivity tanker. Save new artists and new albums for times when you’re free and can focus on listening to the music without being pulled in other directions or have other responsibilities directly in front of you.

 

Final Thoughts

With over 70 years of positive research on the effect of music on the working brain, and new data emerging in its favor all the time, we can affirm that listening to music while working is a good thing—in most situations. Listening to music while working has benefits for both your mental health and your work performance.

The benefits for your mental health include reducing stress and anxiety, relieving symptoms of Pin Drop Syndrome, and improving your moods. Advantages for your work performance include increased focus, boosted productivity, improved performance on repetitive tasks, and drowning out a noisy work environment.

However, there are a few times when it’s against your best interest to listen to music while working. Those situations are when you’re trying to learn something new or when you’re listening to new music (music you’ve never heard before).

As long as you avoid listening to music at work in the two situations where it can be negative and instead utilize music wisely in all the other ways outlined here, you can expect to improve your overall satisfaction with work and your job performance to boot.

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