Music in the Workplace

 

Using music to adjust the tempo and mood.

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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
– William Congreve, in “The Mourning Bride,” 1697

No, it’s not “beast,” it’s about how music affects the human soul. Recently, I left work one evening and my head was swimming. Frankly, I was in a foul mood. However, as I was driving home I happened to turn on a local station, a favorite of mine, right here in Palm Harbor, and happens to be commercial free. The station rightfully touts itself as “extreme variety,” playing an eclectic assortment of music. At this particular moment, they didn’t play Rock and Roll, Rap, or Country, but rather some classic Big Band music. I know quite a few songs from this era but not the one playing on the radio. It featured some excellent work on clarinet and trombone. More importantly, the melody was just the tonic to snap me out of my mood and I began to relax and enjoy the day. I could literally feel my disposition change and a headache I had earlier in the day magically disappeared.

This reminded me of the important roll music plays in the workplace. A study in 1972 found factory workers performed at a higher level when upbeat, happy tunes were played in the background. This paper is often cited when discussing the impact of music, even to this day. In today’s world though, office workers are more likely to be found plugged into their own personal music. God only knows what they’re listening to; I doubt if it’s Tschaichovsky or Beethoven. Managers should be paying more attention but I’m afraid they are not, as they are probably plugged in themselves and haven’t noticed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer of music in the workplace, but the volume and type of music is very important. Like it or not, music does affect our senses and concentration. As much as I like good, old-fashioned Rock and Roll, it is hardly the type of music I want played in the office. The same is true of Rap and Country. We may like such music personally, but I don’t think it is wise to play it in the office. Instead, jazz and “easy listening” stations are probably better choices, preferably instrumentals. The volume and tempo should not be too distracting. In fact, I don’t believe anyone really listens to “easy listening” music, and that is just the point. It’s nice to have something playing in the background without actually distracting us from our work. Offices get hectic enough and some calm music in the background can greatly relieve the tedium.

Any manager who allows workers to plug into their own music is asking for trouble. Basically, they are abdicating control over their environment. Take back control; outlaw the use of personal music, and tune in something more suitable for all of your workers.

Yes, music has charms to sooth a savage breast. It also is a smart way of controlling the tempo and mood of your workers.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a freelance writer and management consultant located in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. As an avid writer and speaker, Tim discusses everything from business and management, to politics and morality, to systems and technology, and our ever changing world.