The Impact Of Music On Work Performance (+A Productivity Playlist!)

Posted April 16, 2014, by Marni Williams

The digital music streaming service Spotify has been watching closely while millions of us choose our tunes. But they’re using their data mining powers for good, having teamed up with Dr Anneli Haake, an expert on music in the workplace, to report back on our 9 to 5 listening habits.

The result? A healthy 61 per cent of us listen to music while we work. Why do I say ‘healthy’? While to some people it still might appear that pulling the ear shutters down is anti-collegial, or that communal tunes sound like imposed aural torture, numerous studies (examples here, here and here) have proven that music in the workplace not only improves mood, but also increases productivity.

So if you struggle with time management, here's why you should pop those earphones in!

Music has a positive effect on work performance

Music Therapist Dr Theresa Lesiuk of the University of Windsor, Canada, established that the dopamine releases that come with music are pretty useful. Data from 56 developers was obtained from four different Canadian software companies and the results indicated that quality of work was lowest with no music:

‘A beneficial effect of music on task performance may be explained by increases in state positive affect. When music evokes a pleasant mood and an increased arousal state, participants perform better on non-musical tasks.’

It’s even possible that by now this is something we know intuitively, because Spotify’s research also found that 36 per cent of us think a bit of ear candy helps us to get through the day. A further 16 per cent of us would rather listen to the sound of music than our colleagues and a perhaps less productive 20 per cent admit to listening to music as a welcome distraction from their ‘boring’ jobs. 

Either way, Lesuik’s message is clear:

‘When music listening in the work environment is encouraged by project directors and the workers are amenable to music listening, then certainly music listening has a positive effect.’

Headphones at work might not be such a bad thing

Tunes boost morale

I have to admit, I am only a recent convert to the productivity playlist.

I’m lucky enough to work in an office where a healthy Spotify list cranks most of the day and the radio gives us plenty to grimace at for the rest. But having come from a long line of hushed offices, it did take some adjustment for me to cross over from the silent side.

I now laugh at the old me shuffling manuscripts around quietly, scoping out corners from which to take important phone calls and living in constant fear of my chewing breaching the acceptable decibel level. I don’t think I ate a dry cracker at my desk for a decade! In my experience, there is certainly something much freer and a hell of a lot more natural about sharing some music with your colleagues, even if you don’t always get to listen to ‘your’ music most of the time. And I can still pop on the headphones when I need to focus.

How important is the genre?

Unremarkably, Spotify says the most popular workplace genres are chart music (34 per cent) and rock (29 per cent), followed by indie (22 per cent), but experts say that lyrics can sometimes be distracting, so if you can convince your colleagues to find their jazz hound or classical connoisseur within, then that’s even better.

Spotify says that one in 10 of us judge a colleague based on their choice of music, so there is a small risk involved in wearing your musical heart on your sleeve at work, but that’s also part of the point. Sharing your love of One Direction with your colleagues is personal and the familiarity adds a lot to morale, the key is to make sure everyone gets a say in the choice and that you provide a good range. 

And if you can’t please everyone, relax: no one is really listening to the mix that closely, it’s there to provide a nice sound buffer and a bit of ambience. I certainly listen to different music chilling out at home from when I’m working out in the gym, so your colleagues will adapt to the kinds of music they like at work, too.

Want to be more productive? See if you experience the Mozart effect with this lyric-free playlist – it could help boost your performance and get through your workday faster!

Looking for other ways to boost your productivity? Science says looking at kittens and puppies helps improve focus! Don't believe us? Check out the science here!

Marni Williams

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