Music at work: good or bad?

The Infographic answer to one of the burning issues of our time

July 5, 2017

Music at work and productivity

Few workplace issues divide opinion quite so much as listening to music in the office. Back in the days before noise-cancelling headphones, normally laid back copywriters could threaten to turn into psychopaths if somebody turned the radio on. Art directors and designers would start emitting steam from their ears if anybody had the temerity to turn that same radio off. Even today, there are those who tut disapprovingly at anybody sat with their headphones in, moving to an invisible rhythm as they type. Can these people really be working as hard as they should be?

Is listening to music evidence that you’re just not concentrating? Or is it an essential to helping you concentrate? Does it distract? Or drown out other rival distractions? The world needed an answer to these burning diplomatic issues. Thank goodness the good people at the internet marketing company WebpageFX have seen fit to provide one. Their infographic Whistle while you work: Impact of music on productivity is one of the best sourced infographics you’re likely to come across – and it summons a wealth of different research to answer one of the most serious questions of our time. Does music really make us more productive?

I’ve got a lot of love for this Infographic, not just because it’s about a subject very close to my heart, but because it shows just how fantastic this format can be at bringing together disparate information to make sense of an issue. There’s not just one set of research represented here – there are at least ten; everything from neuroscience on how different parts of the brain respond to a good tune, to surveys about who listens to what, and whether it helps them perform tasks faster or slower. When this classic office argument next erupts, you can’t say they haven’t given you plenty of ammunition to help settle it.

As you might expect, for two such complex things as music and productivity – there’s no simple relationship between the two. It all depends on the type of music you are listening to, and the type of task you’re attempting to be productive at. Employees and SMB business owners alike are very confident that music delivers happier and more productive workplaces (which is great news for music lovers everywhere), but they need to keep an ear out for those employees who need the sounds of silence as well.

Scroll down for the full infographic (it’s well worth it) – and then scroll down further for more detail of the science behind some of the key stats. It will give you authority to settle that in-office rap battle on whether music is for slackers or seriously productive folk:

Where do these dance-stepping data come from? Here’s a quick summary:

  • Research from neuropsychologists at Mindlab International last year found that nine out of ten workers produced more accurate test results when listening to music than when surrounded by silence – evidence that music in general has a generally positive impact on mental alertness.
  • That same research suggests different types of music are better suited to different tasks: classical music if you’re making calculations and need attention to detail, pop music for entering data, dance music for proof-reading.
  • Earlier research from a collection of music licensing companies found that business owners (in particular smaller business owners) have a lot of faith in music boosting morale and productivity. In fact, 40% went so far to claim that the music they played actually increased sales.
  • The neuroscience as to how music affects different parts of the brain comes from experiments conducted at McGill college in 2001 – and the impact on wellbeing of dopamine, which music helps to release, has been frequently studied.
  • That all adds up to a lot of positive evidence for the impact of music on productivity – but the nuances of how music affects the brain also mean that it’s very bad news for certain tasks. If your work requires linguistic processing (if you’re writing something for example) then music with lyrics can interfere with your mental processes. The same applies when you are trying to learn new information.

If music can have such a powerful influence on people’s productivity and wellbeing at work, do we maybe need to plan around it more proactively rather than just leaving people to stick on whichever tunes they fancy? Looking through this infographic and the research behind it leaves me imagining offices with carefully crafted soundscapes for people doing different kinds of work: a Classical music room for the number crunchers, a pop-fuelled space for account management, maybe, and a soundproofed booth for the writers. One thing seems clear: get music in the workplace right and you could be unlocking some serious competitive advantage.

This infographic was created by Webpage FX