Music in the Office – Help or Hindrance?

I’ve read a number of blogs recently about the importance of maintaining a positive company culture and keeping staff motivated and engaged. These elements are more important than ever before, as companies that choose to ignore them will soon find their employees migrating to companies that don’t. One of the blogs I read suggested playing music in the office as a method of motivating employees. Having previously worked in an office where this was the norm, I witnessed a number of problems with the practice. While I whole-heartedly support a fun and non-restrictive company culture, I am glad to be out of an office environment that plays music aloud. Here is why.

The Genre Divide

One thing is certain – you will never find an office where everyone likes listening to the same type of music. Some will prefer classical music because it’s soothing and intellectual. Others will prefer jazz because it’s creative and experimental. Still, others will be partial to classic rock, modern rock, pop, hip-hop, or whatever boy bands are. Often these preferences will be represented by generation, and if you thought managing a multigenerational workforce was difficult, try doing it when they’re arguing over what’s playing on the radio. You will see the generation gaps widen like never before as one generation celebrates their music blasting throughout the office while the others complain about how much they hate it.

The Music Police

The music you choose to play may depend on your industry. But for argument’s sake, let’s say part of your workforce is made up of millennials, and they want to hear what’s popular today. Nowadays, every artist wants to push the boundaries a little further than those who came before them, and for employees who want to listen to today’s top hip-hop or rock artists in the office, this could cause an HR conundrum. Who screens the music to make sure it’s not offensive to others in the office? What happens when lyrics that some employees feel are perfectly acceptable are deemed racist or misogynistic by others? Chances are the HR department will want to err on the safe side and stick to music that is harmless, which will inevitably leave a number of employees complaining about management’s boring music choices.

The Distraction Factor

Many people find that listening to music while working stimulates creativity and productivity…but not everyone. Some people work best in a quiet environment. In addition, there will always be employees who will need to conduct meetings, give presentations, or talk to clients on the phone. Some will be able to step into a private office or conference room, but these may not always be available. In the end, it’s far easier for those who want to listen to music while working to wear headphones than it is for those who don’t wear earplugs.

The Musician’s Plight

I recently wrote a blog about employees with hidden talents, and how most offices employ at least a few musicians. Something non-musicians may find surprising is that many musicians have trouble listening to “background” music at work. Why? Because their concentration will always be diverted from what they should be working on to the music. Guitar riffs, drum fills, tempo and time signature changes, modulations – do you listen for these things? Musicians do – it’s ingrained in them. While your musically inclined coworkers love listening to music just as much as you do, they may not want to admit to the whole office that listening while working on a major project or presentation may not be the best time.

With the exception of those in fields like healthcare, law and finance, most employees would rather work in a fun, creative, and collaborative environment. But what may drive creativity and productivity in some may hinder it in others. The key is to find that balance that allows each employee to maximize his or her work output without hindering anyone else’s. Considering that most office workspaces consist of cubicles, or in some cases are completely open, the only way to ensure a positive work experience for all is to confine each employee’s creative endeavors to the boundaries of his or her cubicle walls or personal workspace. So the next time you decide to turn on the creativity, feel free to turn it up…but keep it under the headphones.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.