The Psychology Behind How Music Affects Work Productivity

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Whether you are into rock, pop, jazz, reggae, country, or any other genre, one thing’s for sure. Playing the right songs can help set the tone of your day. But does this also apply to employees in the workplace? The concept of how music affects work productivity has been a subject of numerous studies.

For this blog, we’ll take a closer look at what some experts are saying about the correlation between the two.

The power of music - and how music affects work productivity.

This idea is by no means new! Chinese philosopher Confucius once said:

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

This is, of course, true. Many of us turn to music when we want to relax after a busy day. For some, it can likewise be a great ‘companion’ during work.

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Case in point, research by University of Miami music therapy program assistant professor Teresa Lesiuk attests to this.

In her study, Dr Lesiuk followed 56 software developers from Canadian companies and observed the effects of music on their work. After gathering data from the participants over five weeks, she came to this conclusion:  

“Narrative responses revealed the value of music listening for positive mood change and enhanced perception on design while working.... Overall, the study contributes to the development of a model that aspires to elucidate music and workplace interactions; as well, it has implications for organizational practice.”

Furthermore, a Guardian feature shares some of the benefits of listening to music while working:  

“Beyond providing background noise, music has been shown to improve both productivity and cognitive performance, especially in adults. Listening to music can help people manage anxiety, become motivated and stay productive.”

“You just need to know how to make the right playlist,” the site likewise added.

How to make the most of music in the workplace

Speaking of playlists, INC mentions that how music affects work productivity “depends on the situation and type of music.” It could either contribute to productivity or could become a distraction, based on these five factors:

  • Musical structure
  • Lyrics
  • Listening habits
  • Difficulty of tasks
  • Control
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It seems that for some people, songs with simpler arrangements are better suited for the workplace. In certain cases, individuals get distracted by the lyrics or prefer not to listen to any music at all when performing challenging tasks. Also, others prefer to have control over what tracks or albums they play.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference.

As the article further pointed out:

“If you're listening to music while working, see if it suits the five criteria above and adjust until you find what works best.”

Choosing the right music for the right place

MAV Music Agency founder Michael Vettraino once revealed how his London-based company was hired by offices to provide background music. While they have often worked with casinos, hotels, and restaurants, workspaces eventually started tapping their services as well.

Alex Hill, MAV head of music and operations, said about the experience:

“Our clients have told us that it's increased their productivity when they’ve had the right music playing in the office, in terms of staff motivation.”

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Again, how music affects work productivity depends on the genre and the nature of the tasks done by workers.

“A graphic design agency in Shoreditch is going to want very different music to a high street bank in Gloucester,” he explained. “But if you get it right, it should hopefully help people to work harder.”

Music doesn’t have to be a distraction

“Familiarity,” an NBC article reads, “is best for focus.”

We also learn:

“The reason being is that new music is surprising; since you don’t know what to expect, you are inclined to listen closely to see what comes next. With familiar music, you know what lies ahead and thus the sound doesn’t become your primary focus.”

Final thoughts

Of course, employee productivity involves a lot of important factors. Aside from music, you also have to consider the work environment itself. Whether you’re operating from a rented office or a coworking space, you want it to be conducive to work efficiency. Amenities such as ergonomic furniture and reliable hardware (i.e. computers, printers, scanners), along with fast WiFi are all essential.

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