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How can music boost your performance?

The science behind the benefits of music in the workplace.

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Listening to music in the workplace can positively boost your performance. What’s more, the benefits are multiple:

  • Helping to improve mood
  • Preventing daydreaming and distractions from work
  • Providing company when the office environment is too quiet

In fact, data from The Sound of Productivity Report reveals that 79% of people would benefit from listening to music at work. However, over one third (38%) are not allowed to (though many would benefit from it).

While the research headlines speak for themselves, it’s the science behind the stats that can offer a real insight into the benefits of music in the workplace. To explain why this is important, we need to step into a psychologist’s shoes[1] to understand the relationship between mental stimulation (or arousal, as psychologists call it) and performance.

The ‘Science’ Bit Explained

When people become stimulated or aroused by the work they are doing, their performance increases – but only to a point. If they become over stimulated their performance will decline.


Much depends on what mood the person is already in, and what they are doing when listening to the music. Ultimately, it’s clear from the research that people balance their internal needs and motivation to listen to music with what’s expected from them while they’re ‘on the job.’ This ‘responsible listening’ model set the framework for the research.

Extroverts vs Introverts

Of course, we are all individuals and different personality types respond to different levels of stimulation[2]. Extroverts, for example, require much more arousal to reach their performance peak, whereas introverts need a lot less. This is why two people can have very different reactions to the same music at work, and why there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to introducing music to the workplace.


It takes all types

In fact, it’s evident that there are real differences in the role of music in the workplace according to sector and job type. To illustrate, Computer Programmers are often likely to have challenging workloads as well as being more introverted. This means they are more vulnerable to being easily disrupted, especially when working in an open-space. In cases like this, listening to music can be a positive way to control the sound environment and reduce interruptions.

Indeed the research showed overwhelmingly that people working in open-spaces would benefit more from music compared with people working on their own -underlining the important role music plays in blocking out noise to aid concentration.

Music and well-being

Over half the people in this study use music to change their mood or to mirror their emotions. In other words, listening to music helps boost their personal well-being. It’s a well know fact that well-being at work is good for work performance. The science behind this is that even mild positive emotions have the ability to increase what we can recall in our minds. In other words, – it can help to stimulate new thoughts and memories. The end result can lead to increased creativity[3].


The future of Sound Productivity

What’s clear from the research is that encouraging music in the workplace can help to improve well-being and increase satisfaction and productivity. However, an environment where people have a greater level of control over when and which music they listen to, can result in experiences and outcomes which are more positive.

Enjoyed as a private activity, music in offices can be seen as a perk; a positive route to personal happiness and well-being. What’s more, it’s a clever way to help manage work environments and minimise interruptions; a cost effective way to combat stress; and a positive technique for encouraging self care.

Looking to the future, the Sound of Productivity is seemingly a step towards helping people to regulate their personal well-being in a public space. Which should be music to employers’ ears.

[1] Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-482.

[2] Eysenck, H. J. (1967). The biological basis of personality. Springfield, IL: Thomas.

[3] Isen, A. M. (1999). Positive affect. In T. Dalgleish, & Power, M. (Ed.), Handbook of cognition and emotion (pp. 521-539). Chicester, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. Akhtar Sohail

    best wishes

  2. Janet James

    I have been tortured on and of, for many years, by having to either put up with other people’s indolence and distraction from their tasks, by their ”wasp in their ear” or by being forced to listen to some obligatory ”blasted” racket, over a sound system, in an already loud environment.. Music in the workplace is both agony, draining and mentally distracting.. Also there is a high risk of accidents due to impaired hearing towards ‘the important things’ in a workplace!

  3. SilenceIsGolden

    What utter drivel. In all this one-sided, rose-tinted gushathon, not one single word about noise pollution or the fact that one person’s symphony is another person’s cacophony, or the risk of management having to sort out inter-staff disputes. Will the majority in an office be able to impose its tastes on the minority? God help us. This is a race to the bottom, drowning out independent creativity in a sea of monocultural mass-market pap.

    I once made the mistake in the 1990s of enlisting on a coach tour of Europe by an Australian company operating out of an Ealing PO Box. When I signed up, I was falsely encouraged by the small print that said passengers would not be allowed to play music. Once aboard, I found that the tour guide and driver blared their highly limited choice of music (simplistic, repetitive Australian country-rock) non-stop at passengers, and got nasty with anyone asking for it to be turned down (distorting their requests and subjecting them to humiliating comments in public). In order to get peace and quiet on the long journeys I had to invest in a portable music device and buy the loudest rock music by PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop I could find, in order to drown out their leaden monotonous dirges – even though my own choice if freely made would have been some quiet, gentle baroque chamber music.

    This author seems to be incapable of presenting a balanced appraisal of a subject, looking at both merits and drawbacks, and instead merely repeats a small set of loaded promotional themes ad nauseam. Is she sponsored by the Muzak Corporation?
    How come she doesn’t declare any interests?

  4. rico story

    . . . iii just had to use my musician ‘ s name for this won . . . . SOUNDS goode ; ; wii need to MEASURE up to this SCORE ; ; RESONATES FREQUENTLY with my sense ; ; i ‘ d like to / two / too hear / here / more . . . thnx for the info

  5. katze_sphinx

    I too feel that music is also extremely important to our well being. However, the playing of music eg in an office is helpful. On building sites not so. One needs to hear machines or hopefully not, a cry for help from fellow tradesmen. A very contraversial subject indeed.

  6. Jono

    I don’t see much about choice in this article, or who makes the decisions. The non-trumpeting elephant in the room! The writer probably works in a nice happy, low-pressure public sector environment where people are polite and super-considerate to one another and nobody imposes much, and imagines that everyone else out there is equally blessed. Dream on.

    This would be an absolutely brilliant weapon for empowering workplace bullies to make their targets’ lives a real misery, while airhead academics write fatuous theses about how workers’ lives are being enriched. What planet are some people on?

  7. Mike

    You are also missing a key point here.

    It costs an employer a lot of money to provide music in a UK workplace. All employers providing music in a workplace with more than one employee need to be licensed for music royalties and the cost of this is a minimum of several hundred pounds per year and that is for a small workforce.

    To the people who police music royalties turning up a radio load enough to entertain a group of people is broadcasting and music royalties will be due.

    You can’t just switch a radio and entertain your staff free of charge eventually you will be fined unless you get the required licence.

    I also totally agree that one man or woman’s “beautiful symphony” is another’s “musical hell”. If you have ever been forced to put up with the “wrong type of music” at work you will totally understand that.

  8. Robert

    Whilst in general I agree with the idea – it is pleasant to hear music while you work from time to time – music can be more distracting than you think. For example, if I was doing an important task and then “Les Fleurs” by Minnie Riperton came on, I would be temporarily unable to do my task – partly because it’s one of the few songs I cannot listen to without crying (so sue me, I’m an old softy at heart). Also, I’m a bit of a prog fan and unfortunately prog is a bit of a dirty word to much of the listening public who can find it self-indulgent and directionless – bad prog is terrible – and I wouldn’t want to foist my musical taste on anyone else. So, nice try, but it would have to be rationed and others tastes will have to be taken into consideration – which might make the whole thing a bit flavourless and no more than pleasant muzak.

  9. Nigel Rodgers

    Music while you work (like music while you eat, drink, shop etc) will please people if – and only if – they can control it. The freedom to listen or not to have to listen is the key issue here. People working in shops before Christmas may have to endure ‘Christmas music’ such as Jingle Bells 300 times in the run-up to Christmas. Jingle hells not Jingle bells!
    On a less seasonal note, a study from Cardiff University in 2010 found that music played at work harmed rather than boosted productivity at all levels, contradicting long-held assumptions that repetitive work at least went better with ‘music while you work’.


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