No techno, trance, classical or heavy metal, and other strategies.
It’s widely believed that listening to music in the workplace can boost productivity, but I suspect that’s only because there’s less research funding for the obvious corollary — that having to listen to other people’s music in the workplace can boost irritation.
If you’re doing something repetitive, research suggests listening to music can make you operate more efficiently, but music, especially the kind that has lyrics or anything that’s new to you, has actually been shown to interfere with learning, and workplace music can contribute to a noisy environment that produces more of the stress hormone cortisol.
Although countless offices do attempt to boost the Monday morning or Friday afternoon mood with a hype song that someone’s assumed can’t lose, enjoying music seems not to be much of a team sport.
A survey of 2000 Americans by US analytics company Toluna found that two-thirds don’t listen to music with their co-workers, 17% admitted that disagreements over the music had led to an argument, 8% said they disliked their coworkers’ taste in music, and 11% listen to their own music to block out their colleagues’ chatter.
I canvassed some New Zealand dudes about how their workplaces tackle the issue. If you work somewhere that plays music in the workplace and it causes strife, here are five strategies for resolving the problem.
If you’re the boss, you’re the DJ.
“We always have music playing and I dictate what's played,” a friend reported. “If anyone has a music suggestion, they submit it to me first.”
The director of a company where music is “a really important part of the culture and the experience”, and an extension of the company’s brand, he feels that liking or at least tolerating the music played is part of your job.
No collaborative playlists, then? “Nope,” he says. “This is not a democracy.”
Draft a music policy.
These days, companies have policies to govern all kinds of things that would otherwise cause confusion or malfeasance. Why not music? A friend who worked somewhere where chaos reigned eventually drafted an informal policy. “The rules were: no songs with prominent swearing (although sometimes the odd one would slip through); no techno, trance, classical and heavy metal.”
Headphones for all.
If who gets to connect to the company speakers becomes a source of passive-aggression or outright conflict, headphones will repair the peace. They’re very democratic, and can contribute a sense of mystique about what everyone’s semi-secretly listening to.
Have a company song
“We used to have a Friday song that was played every Friday morning — some house track by Sasha — but a new director put a stop to it,” a friend said. Whoever started the tradition probably wanted to celebrate that TGIF buzz — which, nothing wrong with that — and whoever stopped it probably got heartily sick of the track — also understandable.
This is a total wildcard solution but maybe, just maybe, having one song that’s played, say, once a week, or to signify special achievements, like a gong bash or a trumpet blast, will create a sense of community.
And because there’s nothing like a clumsily enforced sense of community to create a real sense of in-the-trenches morale, the more terrible the song, the better.
If in doubt, set the dial to The Coast FM
Easy listening is the great leveller: it’s no one’s idea of cool, few people’s number one choice, and almost everyone’s guilty pleasure. It’s the sound of compromise. Coast FM, which touts itself as “the ultimate musical escape from the daily grind”, plays a smooth melange of classic hits, Dad rock/yacht rock/soft rock and folksy 60s pop songs. As such, it’s a great default option or palate cleanser.
And, like the company song option, it’s daggy enough that it can build team spirit through team cringing. Coast was playing at a friend’s workplace one day when a cool-guy courier nuked everyone with an irony-laced savage burn on his way out: “Have a great day listening to Rod Stewart.”