Music At Work (Upbeat, Instrumental Or Relaxing Music for Work Productivity?)


The other day a colleague at work started playing music on his speakers. A lot of us loved the concept of working with background music on, but others weren’t huge fans and began to complain. It made me wonder what people in general think of background music at work or in a coworking space, and I decided to read up and find out.

So, what are the feelings about music playing? Most people don’t mind background music while working, but it has been scientifically observed that certain types of music, such as classical, are better for productivity. People may find music annoying when they are trying to learn something new.

In workplaces that are fairly liberal and somewhat easy going, it is not uncommon these days to see employees with earphones plugged in, listening to music while they work. This is so particularly for people who work a lot on computers, making it a rather sedentary and often monotonous situation without entertainment such as music. But at the end of the day, music is a subjective choice and a matter of opinion, so most people play it for themselves via earphones. Everyone may not enjoy the same type of music and many people may not like it at all. However, are there any merits to background music played on speakers at the workplace? What kind of music could be popular with everyone? Can it boost productivity to an extent? Let’s find out.  (My personal favourite – Brain.fmOpens in a new tab. – it’s free)

Background Music at Work

While many people do prefer to choose their own music and listen to it by themselves, there can be certain benefits to playing music on speakers, provided it is of a certain genre and at a certain volume. One could always argue that not all people would prefer to listen to music while working, and it might even disturb them immensely, but this argument could be applied for everything, from seating arrangements to lighting, etc.

Nowadays technology has made it easy to access things such as apps to download and listen to music from, and the same can be used in office spaces to play background music everyone can enjoy. Background music played on speakers in public locations, from restaurants to stores to offices as well, is increasingly a common phenomenon. Moreover, music is not just popular for its aesthetic purposes; it also has several health benefits, both mental and emotional. Research has proven that listening to instrumental music while working actually increases the power of concentration and helps in focusing on the task, and that’s a reason why many offices have begun to consider playing background music in the workspace. It’s also why many employees love the concept so much- who doesn’t want to be happy and productive at work? Here are six of the researched merits of background music playing at work, because of which people who are proponents of this practice, support it-

1. Listening to music while working can have a positive effect on the mood of the person. Music is known to uplift one’s spirits and create a happy, positive atmosphere at the workplace. A good mood also boosts the employee’s performance, helps in tackling difficult tasks and makes the person socially more pleasant as well. In the long run, employees who have listened to music while working find that their will to work and their overall performance has grown over time.

2. When one listens to good music, the sensation is pleasant and releases dopamine, which enhances emotional health and is directly linked with good mental health as well. In the long run, this is necessary for all individuals who work full-time, particularly those who are engaged in repetitive tasks. Dopamine released by music also combats the presence and spread of cortisol, the stress hormone, and effectively makes a person feel better.

3. Certain types of music are known to stimulate the mind and give rise to more creativity, as well as higher levels of energy. Listening to music playing in the background while working is known to make the brain focus and work faster than without music. It has been found that with music playing, it helps cancel other disturbing sounds that might distract the brain, and narrows it down to the work that needs to be done.

4. One of the health benefits offered by background music played at a moderate volume is that there is no strain on the eardrums as there could be by alternative prolonged use of earphones. Having ear plugs in for long hours at a stretch, no matter how good quality they are is negative for auditory and ear health in the long run. Background music protects the ears from that kind of stress and potential problems.

5. Another positive of background music playing, unless it is obnoxiously loud, is that it causes no hindrance in work. Ordinarily, having earphones plugged in may disrupt the individual’s ability to hear conversations and activities happening around them, and could thus cause disturbance whenever the person is called. With background music playing softly, people are still able to interact normally with each other without having to shout to be heard. This allows easy communication between employees, seniors and juniors. Moreover, background music breaks monotonous silence in busy workspaces and helps distract from very noisy office spaces as well.

6. Background music that everyone can hear provides something in common for all employees to enjoy and is thus a good way to foster friendship and bonding among them. Work can get rather busy and stressful at times, with people not getting the time to really interact- but music can be a common denominator for all the employees.

Those were some of the main reasons why people enjoy listening to background music while they work. However, there are many who complain that background music is actually rather distracting and disrupts concentration instead of enhancing it. In their own way, they are not wrong- the kind of music played actually makes a major impact and determines if it will help boost work productivity or just ruin it further.

Eight Condiserations of Background Music and How it Affects Work Productivity

1. It is evident that nobody would prefer working in a space where music is blaring. Not only is that harmful for auditory health, can cause headaches and stress, it is also a very disturbing environment to work in. Volume, at which the music is audible but not overpowering, is preferred by employees who find the melody pleasant and comforting.

2. There are certain types of music most people agree is pleasant to listen to in the background while working. When people say they don’t enjoy music while working, mostly it is due to the wrong kind of music or the act of listening to it during a task that is not appropriate for the same. Since it has already been established that music does in fact calm the mind, slow the heartbeat and relax the body, it remains only to observe which type of music has what effect. For example, dance music such as EDM and pop can cause a level of exhilaration, excitement and may not be appropriate for concentrating on office work.

3. Studies have found that instrumental music works the best to enhance work performance and avoid causing disturbance. Instrumental music is preferred as it has no lyrics, and lyrics can be very distracting, particularly for employees who are anyway easily swayed by ten different activities. Instrumental music has been hailed worldwide as the type that can aid in sharpening concentration. Even within that genre, there are specific sub-categories that really help a person focus, calm the mind and soothe the nerves.

4. Classical music such as baroque music has been found to enhance productivity and performance, and has a very relaxing effect on the mind. Now, this relaxing effect might seem counter-productive to the idea of increasing focus, but the music works by removing distractions in the form of loud or sudden noises, from the brain, and thus helping it focus on the task at hand.

5. It has been observed often that people are not averse to upbeat music if it is alternated by soft melodies, since this combination keeps the energy levels high and yet helps the person unwind and relax. If it is only the slow and soft music playing, it may get a bit boring and may even cause too much relaxation, while if it is continuously upbeat tunes, the sound can get grating and sickening to the senses. A balance is well-preferred for background music in the co-working space.

6. Overall, particularly when it comes to background music, most people would not enjoy songs with complex beats and differing rhythms such as those used in pop, rock and contemporary R&B music. The variations in tempo and the generally loud volume of these songs can be rather distracting and can cause more of a nuisance by hindering concentration and ability to work.

7. Music with lyrics is also not a popular option for those working with background music. The brain then gets divided into a part that is trying to focus on work, and another that comprehends the lyrics of the song playing. If at all songs with lyrics are played as background music, people have stated that they feel more comfortable working with music that has simple chords and lyrics that repeat to some extent. They opine that in this way, the music is truly background music and enables them to work in peace, thus making such music a popular choice in a co-working space.

8. There are some great variants of background music being created these days, many for the purpose of motivating and energizing people as well. Epic music is one of the most preferred work music categories, although it is neither soft nor generally gentle. It does offer a great build-up however, which many people say is very exciting and makes them think of adventure and medieval fantasy games.

Conversely though, epic music is equally unpopular for other people who dislike it as background music while working. Epic music can be too loud and too momentous for all people to enjoy, so it is more of a personal preference than one an entire office would like.

Background nature is quite popular. However, nature music can be quite clashing and horrible (for some) to the senses if not arranged properly – such as birds calling and jungle noises of animals are not calming at all. Rather they are jarring to the ear and can really take away one’s focus from their task. For background music in workspace, most people enjoy soothing and calming nature sounds like waves and rustling leaves, as these are very natural sounds and would not be distracting.

One variant of background music that is growing increasingly popular is ambient music. Essentially, ambient music is instrumental, but stresses on setting an atmosphere rather than on musical rhythm or melody in particular. The idea is to take and put together several layers of sound, which then fill the listener with a sense of tranquillity and ease- ideal for those who want to listen to something while they are trying to grasp a hard topic or task at work.

Coming to the nature of work and its relationship with the kind of music being played, it has been observed that certain types of music go well with only particular tasks. For instance, people noted that it was a bad idea to listen to anything with lyrics, tempo, differing beat and volume when they were engaged in a difficult task. The same applied to epic music and to new tasks as well, as the brain needs peace and quiet to concentrate on the unfamiliar work.

If one listens to new music as well, during new tasks, it is hard for the mind to focus as it would be attempting to hear and understand the unfamiliar chords, lyrics etc. For such work, it was found that classical and instrumental music with gentle, soft melody was preferred as background music, as were natural sounds and in some cases, ambient music.

People who enjoy upbeat background music observed that they enjoy it best while doing tasks that are tedious and repetitive, and also routine tasks they have done many times prior. This is since the tasks are familiar and have already been internalized by the brain- so new music or music with lots of variation in it will probably not hamper the quality or accuracy of work.

Companies that want to really go out there and do something cool have actually started reaching out to relevant agencies and getting their own custom playlist created. This serves as a great way for the employees to pitch in with their opinion and pick out some good music together. That way everyone can find some music to agree on and background music will become something everyone enjoys.

Thus, when it comes to picking background music for coworking spaces, it is generally a popular option when everyone can agree on the type of music chosen, which in itself, is an agreement hard to arrive at. In the end, it is a very personal choice and someone may surprisingly concentrate well with dance music too. For those organizations that want to add this feature to their offices but don’t want to go an extra mile and spend money on custom tracks, soft instrumental tracks in the background generally work well.

If the volume is kept low, employees can always plug in their own headphones and enjoy music of their choice. By this it can be understood that most employees would like to have and exercise that choice, to switch between the background music on speaker and their own music. For that matter, it would not be possible to say if the feelings about background music playing in a co-working space are fully positive or negative.

While some enjoy it very much indeed, many people, who have the habit of multitasking, claim that the music distracts them far too much and just makes all the tasks more disorganized. Hence it cannot be concluded firmly, but mainly background music is largely favourable in that most people like music while they are working, and the right type of music can really help in focusing on the task at hand.

Related Questions

What kind of music should I listen to before sleeping? After a long day of work, just like a hot bath or a glass of milk before bed, slow music is also a comfort. Some favourites over the years have been Debussy’s Claire de Lune, Weightless, and just about any soft classical number. Avoid loud music with tempo- heavy metal, rock, EDM, etc.

Is it good practice to listen to music while studying? While research indicates that listening to music before and after studying can have a positive impact on mood and emotional health, doing the same while studying- in particular, tasks that require memorizing, can negatively affect the quality of study.

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