Music in the Workplace
Over the ages, music has held a place in the working environment. From it’s use in the earliest of times until its near extinction during the Industrial Age to the present day, music has played a vital role to employees.
A Brief History
Music is a universal language that transcends boundaries. In Victorian times, handloom weavers sang as they worked. When the loud machinery of the Industrial Age came along, music in the workplace was nearly lost. During World War II, music was once again introduced to employees via radio.
Employees, often children, would lose fingers to the looms while attempting to remove something that was blocking it. Child laborers would sing to keep themselves awake.
Railroad workers and farmers sang to relieve monotony and to stay alert to dangers. With the advent of machines in the Industrial Age, singing was literally drowned out. In quieter factories, women or orchestras were hired to sing and play among the workers. Music all but died during this time. (le Roux, 2005, vol. 7)
Radio was mainly used as a means to convey news, but in 1940, the British Broadcasting Corporation began running a radio program called “Music While You Work.” It ran twice per day and was geared especially for the factory workers. The bands for the show were instructed to play medleys in order to keep the workers’ attention. Also vital was for the music to keep a rhythm that would keep productivity up.
In 1942, the song “Deep in Heart of Texas” was banned due to the handclapping section that encouraged workers to momentarily stop and participate. (le Roux, 2005) Even in these earliest of times, the benefits of music in the workplace were recognized:
o Increased productivity
o Fewer accidents
o Improved alertness
o Team interaction
In response to the positive reaction, the company Muzak was founded in the 1950’s to provide music to companies. The company is still going strong today.
Modern Study of Music in the Workplace
In modern times, studies have been conducted to gauge the benefits of music in a work setting. These studies have proved much of what was already known, mainly that music improves productivity.
One study indicates that “positive affect and quality-of-work were lowest with no music, while time-on-task was longest when music was removed.” (Lesiuk, 2005, pp.173-191) On the other hand, “positive mood change and enhanced perception of design” (Lesiuk, pp.173-191) were complemented with the addition of music.
Additional studies have shown that music in the workplace promotes positive mood, sense of team, improves alertness and can lessen the event of accidents. Music “motivates workers, decreases boredom and leads to increased productivity perhaps because people work in time with the beat.” (le Roux, 2005)
Employers do need to consider the type of music played in a workplace. The mood and style should fit the business. Experts suggest all-instrumental soundtracks so that workers don’t become distracted by the lyrics. (Guess, 1999, p. 42)
Personal Headphones in the Workplace
Today, there is some movement toward personal stereos for employees. A study by researchers at the university of Illinois shows listening to music may increase the output of employees in all types of jobs. (Oldham, 1996, p. 95) The idea of personal stereos is that when a worker is allowed to listen to the type of music he or she enjoys, the better the quality of their work. While this idea is fairly recent, it does show promise.
Music has been the soundtrack to humanity undoubtedly since time began. It speaks to people on a primal level. Before researchers even began to study the effect of music on workers, people were weaving, working in their fields or and other jobs while humming or singing along. Now, researchers are proving what these people knew all along: music makes work go by faster and keeps spirits up.
Can personal stereos improve productivity?, Oldham, Greg, 1996
Work to the music, Guess, Terri P., 1999, blackenterprise.com
“Whistle While You Work”: A Historical Account of Some Associations Among Music,
Work and Health, le Roux, Gordon Marc, 2005, ajph.org
The effect of music listening on work performance, Lesuik, Teresa, 2005, pom.sagepub.com