Within the scientific community, the jury remains divided over whether or not music can increase workplace production
Many workers feel that they need to listen to music in the workplace to enhance their production. Others feel skeptical, and worry that music can become a distraction that hinders workflow. Understandably, employers simply would like to know what exactly can increase production. They want to know if music is a hindrance or a useful tool.
As employees are not mechanical robots, there is no single black and white way to program a human being to be more productive. Everyone’s brain wiring is as unique as a fingerprint, and this is an indisputable scientific fact.
Therefore, what will be useful to one person to be more productive, could be a hindrance to the person sitting at the desk beside them. One worker will become less productive in an environment without music. Yet another worker will be less productive if they feel overwhelmed by extra noise.
Conflicting research as human minds are not uniform
Neuropsychologist, Dr. David Lewis, in conjunction with a team that included a physicist and a neuroscientist, released a study recently that showed that 9 out of 10 people’s production improves when listening to music.
Lewis explains “music is a very powerful management tool. If you want to increase, not only the efficiency of your workforce but also their mental and emotional state becomes more positive about the work.”
However, he emphasizes that different music genres are useful for different styles of tasks. On the other hand, Chris Bailey from The Productivity Project believes that it is not so simple.
Bailey emphasizes that in some situations, music could become a hindrance. Nevertheless, he admits that he is incapable of working without music. During an anecdotal experiment he performed on himself, he revealed that spending a week without music “was hell.”
He claims that he continually became distracted from producing work. He felt haunted by music regardless, in the form of earworms that he could not satisfy. Bailey did say, however, that shutting off music during demanding tasks was useful.
What are the pros and cons of using music to increase production?
Researchers proved in studies as far back as 1972 that music can definitely increase production. In this landmark study in Applied Ergonomics, scientists discovered that factory workers performed faster and more efficiently when upbeat and cheerful tunes played in the background.
On the other hand, studies have shown that people are more likely to perform poorly in tasks requiring the attention of the prefrontal cortex, i.e., learning new information and memorizing. However, an employees production in the above tasks will also suffer if they are continuously interrupted by phone calls or queries from colleagues.
Even so, the conclusions in the above studies are not so cut and dried. Creative people, for example, suffer from having more overactive brains. Both the left and right sides of their brain fire more frequently. The same is the case for individuals with ADD or ADHD. Additionally, every environment contains noise.
Creative people and those with ADD and ADHD will more acutely pick up on background noises which will distract them from productivity.
Studies have shown that giving music to children with ADD and ADHD will give the “distracted” parts of their brains something with which to be occupied. Suddenly, they begin to utilize regions of the brain required to perform tasks, from which regular children do not become distracted when listening to rhythmic music.
There is no “one size fits all”
A modern example of the difference between the creative, or ADD/ADHD type mind, and the regular mind is the phenomenon of the fidget spinner. For a child with an overactive creative mind or one who has ADD/ADHD, the fidget spinner will increase their ability to concentrate and be productive. In children with regular minds, the opposite occurs. Teachers complain that this spinning toy creates a distraction for regular kids.
For a naturally distracted individual, music could prove essential to their ability to be productive. To another, the opposite effect will occur. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to whether or not music makes an employee more productive. Interestingly, studies have also shown that naturally distracted individuals also can benefit from merely wearing headphones in the office, even if they are silent.
Furthermore, different types of music have shown to be effective in various types of work situations. According to Lewis, the following types of work require certain styles of music:
- Classical music increases production in employees completing tasks with numbers, or tasks that require attention to detail.
- Ambient music increases production in employees whose task involves solving equations.
- Dance music increases production in employees who are proofreading or problem-solving.
- Pop music increases production in employees who are doing data entry, or who need to meet an urgent deadline.
Why, where and when music can improve employee’s workplace production
Research shows that happier people are 31% more productive than everyone else. Music releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which increases happiness. An employee will feel motivated and excited about their work as these hormones are traveling through their blood stream.
In large corporations, many employees report feeling like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up and down the mountain. Employees who feel happy, valued and that their work is meaningful to the business will feel motivated to produce more work.
According to Bailey, the most productive music soundtracks are similar to those used in video games. When Bailey interviewed Jerry Martin, who writes the music for games like Sim City, Martin explained the nature of this style. Martin claims “the music is linear, just changing without you knowing it, and is supporting your work in the game.”
Bailey recommends that music which is helpful to workplace production should fit certain criteria. He claims that familiar music is best, as our brains are less likely to be distracted into absorbing the experience of something new. Additionally, he recommends that music that triggers extreme memories, either good or bad, be avoided.
Finally, put familiar music on shuffle. Research shows dopamine production will increase. Your motivation to get the job done will increase exponentially.