Should You Listen to Music at Work?
The late philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “without music, life would be a mistake.”
Music is a powerful tool and it is not easy to put into words sometimes. It makes us dance, empowered and sad. We are connected to it creatively and sometimes being distracted by it as well. This is now the modern world where we spend hours behind our laptops and smartphones to get things done, so it is only natural that we turn to music as a way of giving us that boost of energy when things get boring.
A study by University of Central Florida (UCF) professors Kiminobu Sugaya (neuroscientist) and Ayako Yonetani (violinist) who are also a married couple solidifies that music plays a huge role for our brain and behaviours. Even early Alzheimer and Parkinson patients respond positively to music as they would light up once I heard their favourite tunes.
“If you play someone’s favourite music, different parts of the brain light up. That means memories associated with music are emotional memories, which never fade out,” Sugaya said in the study for UCF. That is how we seem to be most emotionally connected to songs that we know and love from our teenage years as it means the most to us for the nostalgia.
Listening to music doesn’t make you work 100% better, but it serves as a background tool to our daily lives at work. Teresa Lesiuk of University of Windsor in Canada said, “Evidence is provided of the presence of a learning curve in the use of music for positive mood alteration.” It has been a positive outcome for mood changes especially in offices with a monotonous surrounding.
There are many things we can discuss from this topic of listening to music at work, but let us break down a couple of things share with you about this fascinating subject.
Here’s the scientific explanation of how music affects our brain:
It starts up the motor cortex which is the reason we will end up tapping along. Music creates the mood accordingly from the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and cerebellum. The lyrics would then affect the language section of our brains called Broca and Wenicke. The auditory cortex is where the music is being processed, and the hippocampus is where our memories are being stimulated.
Ok… The simpler way to explain how music affects us:
When we listen to music, it releases dopamine located in the center of the brain. Dopamine is like a transmitter, so it releases chemicals to different nerve cells known as neurons of our brains. It is the same thing that happens when we are devouring our favourite food or watching our favourite TV show. We are able to keep and elevate our focus through dopamine as well.
As we all know, listening to music can help in so many ways when we need to do more things and be better at is especially during those moments when we are in a slump or need a pick-me-up especially post-lunch period at work. Music is a great source to help release some tension from the stress and anxieties we may be feeling that can also lead us to be less motivated.
Just like how music affects our mood to feel happy or sad, it is able to do that for us with productivity as well, but this will depend on the types of job you may be doing at the moment. Such example would be how soothing ambient music can actually help people at work be more accurate or pop music can boost the speed of the task for some people who have a redundant type of job.
Let’s dive in further.
How you should be listening to music at work:
When you are learning something new, it is best to turn off the music because your brain needs to remember facts and will be going into analyse mode that requires a lot of concentration. Music may distract the process and it has an extra data to filter through, which may cause mistakes while you are reading or listening to information. If you are craving for some tunes, then try looking for more focused playlists for spa and even classical music at a reasonable volume as background.
When the office become a little noisy with open discussion near your desk, then it is the perfect time to play music. You do not want to overwhelm your brain as it is taking in all the data around you while having little focus on the thing you should be doing. Letting the noise affect your task would make stress-hormone go up, in which it will result in the productivity level to go down. Listening to music can help to block out unnecessary disturbance and still keep you calm and focused.
Psychologists Gary Evans and Dana Johnson from Cornell University did a study with clerical workers in a noisy open-office environment and it shows that they would move less at their desk that may cause physical strains. They also completed less work compared to a quieter space, which makes them less motivated to carry on the tasks.
For those of us who are in a job that has a repetitive job, music can help to create a feel-good trigger that makes it more enjoyable to get the tasks done. Dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine will help to make you relax and happy. This example helps for surgeons during their operations because it relieves stress and stay focus during the procedures. Naturally you feel good and it helps you be more patience with other co-workers. With this, you are able to play it on a good sound system speaker or headphones with great sound quality.
When there’s new music involved, it is best to stop because it is that surprise element that comes into play that allows the dopamine to feel this great sensation. It takes the focus away from your work and acts as a distraction. Save the new music that you know you will be into for after work.
This is also true to songs with lyrics as it pumps up your energy, as it shows in this article on music with words help us get very productive in the gym. We would want to divert our attention to the song lyrics and that causes a destruction to our focus.
Electronic music in the category of chillwave, ambient house, chillout and all that good stuff can also keep us focused as they are more repetitive and doesn’t create too much of surprise elements to take our mind off the task in hand.
For those of us who are easily-distracted, but would still like to enjoy a little background music should turn to classical music. Dr Paras Lakhani, MD shared that, “Other studies have correlated baroque classical music with improved spatial reasoning, attentiveness and concentration and personally, I have found that listening to music aids my concentration and interpretative abilities.”
You would probably know when it is right or wrong for you to listen to music at work as it is subjective to each individual. At the end of the day, it helps to boost productivity in the best way possible by giving it a little kick of excitement when the music is on. Play it on a good sound system or headphones with good sound quality to excite the nerves to help us focus and be excited so work doesn’t get as redundant.
1. Create different playlists for different tasks you may have in hand.
2. Put on your earphones or headphones and be considerate of colleagues around you.
3. Keep the volume down so you can still hear your phone when it rings or when someone calls out for you.
4. Do not hum, sing along or tap your feet to the beat as it will only distract others around you.
5. Never blast the music in the office without permission.
6. Give your ears a break by removing the headphones every now and then.
Cover Image: C.L via SOL
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
Kevin was the former editor of two music and lifestyle platforms in Malaysia. He is an all-round music enthusiast from the '90's R&B to K-Pop.