Guest Post by Josh Baez

We’ve all been there.  You walk into work, remove your jacket, and go to sit at your desk, only to remove a set of headphones from your bag, plug them in, and only then can the day begin.  For some, these patterns ensure a productive workday, while for others, music only acts as a distraction.  But what’s the science behind listening to music in the workplace?  And more importantly, does listening to music help increase productivity?

Before answering this question, we first need to see how music affects the brain.  According to Dr. Amit Sood for The New York Times, listening to music “encourages the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain as would eating a delicacy, looking at something appealing, or smelling a pleasant aroma” (qtd. in Padnani).  But even more interesting, perhaps, is seeing this effect in practice.

Teresa Lesuik, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, conducted an experiment to research the effect of music listening on workplace productivity, and in one study, she discovered “those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood” (Padnani).  As we have all experienced in some degree, stress and negativity play crucial roles in workplace productivity, and when an associate begins to act on their aggressions, the entire office can suffer.

Before working in an office, I worked retail for a few years.  We were a sales-driven store, so the upper management decided to have stores play upbeat music to help with enthusiasm and speed when it came to assisting customers.  This worked for a while.  I came into work, ready to begin my day, but just after four months of listening to the same kind of music every day, I began to resent it.  But after a while, there came a point where I didn’t even notice the music being played, and I could tell that my associates were feeling the same way.  No longer was our music positively affecting sales.  At this point, it only acted as noise.

It wasn’t until over a year later that I decided I had had enough.  The store’s “approved” music was no longer benefitting us, and customers who walked in expecting to be able to escape the noises of the mall were met with utter disappointment in the form of bongo drums and castanets.

So I unplugged our store’s iPod and plugged in my own, began to play an artist known as Lord Huron, and stepped back to watch what would happen.  Already I began noticing changes in my associates.  I could physically see their shoulders rise, their lungs inhale, and their eyes widen as the first song continued.  I could feel so much anxiety and tension being lifted like a blanket from our store.  It truly felt as if new life had been breathed into us.  It was astounding to see how something as simple as changing our music could have such profound effects so quickly.

The same can be said when listening to music in an office environment, but here I feel that one feels the effects in a much more personal, maybe even more meaningful way.  I say more meaningful because one is able to listen to their favorite kind of music, and that is enough to make all the difference.  When I hear my favorite artists for the first time in the morning, I feel a weight lifted from my chest.  I feel my lungs open up.  I feel like I’m starting the day on the right foot, and that greatly helps me to feel inspired and optimistic for the day to come.

But obviously, everyone experiences music in different ways, and sometimes music in the workplace really isn’t the right thing for you.  But if that is the case, try listening to music before you begin working.  Take ten minutes and listen to your favorite songs, because even if you can’t work while listening to music, that shouldn’t prevent you from reaping the benefits of listening before you begin working.  Ultimately, just give it some time and be flexible; the worst that can happen is you discover it’s not the right choice for you.

Music has a profound way of affecting the way in which we act and respond to certain criteria.  It can completely change our mood and remove us from our own heads.  The right music is able to send chills down our spine, to snap us back to where we are, and to push us forward.  Music not only affects one’s mood, but it also helps to inspire the listener.  It brings out a motivation in us that few other things are able to do, and in the right situations, the results can be brilliant.  So the next time you’re at your desk and stuck on a problem, take a few minutes, pull out some headphones, and listen to your favorite song.  You might discover that a solution is just a few notes away.

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