The Pros And Cons Of Background Music At Work

Background music was a big topic, this week. Besides it being big business, results of several studies were published about the affects of background music on our productivity. So what are the pros and cons of background music? Should we pause playing our playlists at work?

Background Music At Work

Despite my love for music, there are days I enjoy the silence more. In fact, when I’m not working on my own music, or listening to music for my blogs, I probably have more days working without any background music than I do with.

Nora Tol listening to background music

Listening to background music

The Way Music Affects Me

Over the years, I’ve had various experiences with background music while working. I think it’s affected me both positively and negatively. Of course, I can’t speak for others, but it seems to depend on my state of mind.

When I’m low on energy, like after a poor night’s sleep, turning music on at work really helps me get motivated again.

However, when I have a lot to squeeze in a day, I like to get into a ‘serious work mode’. This means I turn off unnecessary distractions, which depends on my surroundings.

I prefer silence, but when I’m already in a noisy environment, I immerse myself in my favorite music instead. Songs I’ve already heard a million times, so I can’t get distracted by the lyrics.

Furthermore, if I have a lot to get done, I’ll make sure the music I listen to is up-tempo and upbeat, because I think it makes me work harder.

Background Music According To Studies

Fortunately, I respond to music the way most others do, too. This week, Quartz published an article about how music affects our productivity, which describes a simular reaction. However, ABC New Zealand did a write up based on Swedish studies on how music negatively affects our creativity. So, according to both publications, this is what you need to know:

Pros Of Music At Work

  • Upbeat music improves physical performance.
  • Music makes repetitive tasks more enjoyable.
  • If you do play music at work, instrumental music is the better choice. It could boost productivity.
  • Familiar music is better to play at work than unfamiliar music. When it’s unfamiliar we tend to focus on the music instead of the task at hand.
  • It’s better to play music between tasks. It helps concentrate on a task for longer (so, play music at break time!)
  • Classical music boosts creative thinking.

Cons Of Music At Work

  • Impaired performance when doing verbal tasks while listening to background music. Silence is better.
  • Music affects memory if asked to immediately recall information received while listening to background music. So, don’t turn music on while studying.
  • Background music affects introverted people more in their performance than it does extroverted people.
  • Lyrics reduce mental performance at work.

Of course, all depends on how you respond to music, and the type of work you do.

Update August 28th 2020: NuMusic recently wrote a related article listing 18 ways music affects the brain. They state some of the above as well and more.

Music Influences Behavior

While you could, in theory, avoid playing music working an office job, there are other work places where there’s no escaping it. For instance, people who work in shops or hotels. They are exposed to it all day, every day.

These businesses have discovered the affect of music on our behavior and use it for marketing purposes. For shoppers and guests, background music provides an ambiance and an experience, even when we are completely unaware of its affects.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to do for the employees in it all day, everyday. According to a long article in the Guardian, there’s a booming business in setting the mood with background music.

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