How To Choose What Music To Listen To At Work

It should come as no surprise that the music that we listen to plays a role in how we think and feel. That is, after all, why we enjoy listening to music. To allow us to relax at home, to motivate us when we’re at the gym, and everything else in between. So, of course, the music that we listen to at work also has an effect on how we work.

Our song choice at work can help us maintain a certain pace while we are working or even make us feel as if what we’re doing is more important than it actually is. Although, there’s a very thin line between enjoying the background music in a productive manner and losing focus on what you’re supposed to be doing because you’re too busy actively listening to a song.

According to Music Works, when put to the test with four genres of music against no music at all, 9 out of 10 people worked better when music was playing in the background. It seems that with most of us (approximately 88% of people tested agree), our speed and accuracy when performing office-based tasks significantly increase when we are listening to music. Simple, monotonous or repetitive tasks such as data entry, proof reading and problem solving seemingly become more streamlined.

In fact, 58% of people worked faster when listening to pop music whilst doing office-based tasks like entering data and spell checking. But not all pop music is created equal, and you’re better off listening to pop music with little to no lyrics than lyrically heavy pop music. This is because when we listen to music with lyrics, our brains have to subconsciously process the lyrics and interpret their meanings. That explains why you know all the words to that song they always play on the radio, without ever properly listening to the song. If you find yourself struggling to listen to music without vocals, you might want to try music that was written in a foreign language as you won’t constantly be interpreting the words. Similarly, listening to music at work is less effective if you are learning something new or doing something that’s particularly complex. This is due to “cognitive interference” as new information requires more cognitive resources, so you need to dedicate more focus into the learning process. Listening to background music while you work is effectively multi-tasking. So if you’re listening to a piece that’s particularly emotional for you, then that too can take a toll on your productivity. So look for enjoyable, but neutral, pop music with no lyrics. Simple, isn’t it?

Not really. Other research has found that the genre of music is irrelevant to its effectiveness at maintaining productivity, and it’s in fact all down to the tempo of the music regardless of genre. The optimum tempo being between 50-80 beats per minute, to achieve that perfect blend of cool, calm concentration. Very specific. Though there are certain qualities that identify different genres of music, there’s a science to it. And instead of genre of music, you should be looking at things like tempo and repetition. But ultimately you’ll find that different tasks will require different styles of music to suit you, as different music can increase your productivity, creativity, accuracy, and much much more.

Muzak was once a brand that was synonymous with background music, especially for workplace environments. The most famous Muzak of all was the Stimulus Progression, which was designed to maintain productivity throughout the workday. In 15 minute blocks, the background music would gradually increase in tempo and volume which would encourage employees to hasten their pace as they worked along to the music. In between the 15 minute blocks of music, there would be a 15 minute silence to limit worker fatigue and Muzak’s company-funded research showed that an alternation between music and silence made the Stimulus Progression more effective.

So… What’s your office soundtrack?

Whether you’re tuned into your own personal music player, headphones on (or earbuds in) and miles away from everything else happening around you, or swaying gently to the sounds of the office radio as you type up your report, is your office background music helping or hindering your actual work?

Many offices use the music they play as a way of enhancing or creating a working environment that reflects the company’s brand. 78% say that the working environment is much less formal when music is played, and this in itself may play a part in what background music is played and why.

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