How Music in the Office Affects Your Productivity

The next time you are at work bopping away to some tunes and your boss comes over to tell you to turn it off, let her know that you are simply increasing your productivity. The perception that if you are listening to music in the office then you are not working is a fallacy for the most part. It depends on what kind of music, of course, but overall, research (PDF) shows that listening to music releases dopamine in the brain, the same “feel good” chemical that is triggered when you smell a pleasing aroma or when you’re in love (or, if you are an entrepreneur, when you finish up a good business plan).

Music in the office

However, before you blare your favorite Guns ‘n’ Roses track on the overhead speakers, there are a few important points to consider about how music in the office affects your productivity.

Escape Background Noise by Listening to Music with Earphones

Since more and more office spaces are open (rather than filled with individual offices with doors and walls), a certain amount of etiquette needs to be observed. So if you’re going to listen to your favorite tunes, consider wearing earphones so as not to distract your coworkers. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about those ‘80s songs as you are.

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On the other hand, the chatter of colleagues or the clatter of typing in an open environment can be a distraction for a lot of people. In this case, listening to your jams with headphones will cut out the background noise that takes away from your productivity.

Music Makes it Hard to Learn

Not all music is created equal. Studies indicate that music played at a moderate volume is best; too loud, too many guitar riffs or too many operatic arias and it becomes hard to focus. If you’re engaged in repetitive tasks, such as physical labor or data processing, music at any volume can be soothing or energizing. But if you are attempting to analyze information, read complex instructions or learn something new, music—even at low volume—is too instrusive.

Lyrics Are Too Distracting

Another important factor to consider is music with lyrics. If the work you’re trying to do requires a lot of mental concentration, such as writing, listening to music with lyrics would be as distracting as trying to listen to two conversations at the same time.

However, when it comes to physical work or tasks that don’t require a lot of mental focus, such as designing or working out, songs can be quite beneficial. A recent study from London’s Brunel University shows that music actually increases exercise endurance by 15% because it distracts people from weariness and promotes pleasurable feelings (due to the aforementioned dopamine). Because of these reasons, it also promotes endurance and metabolism. In fact, music is so effective that USA Track & Field, the national governing body for such sports as cross country running, officially prohibited listening to music while racing so that they could “prevent runners from having a competitive edge.”

Music at Work Best for Repetitive Tasks

Listening to music at work is best when the job you’re doing involves repetition, not tasks that are complex or require mental focus. Assembly workers, for example, benefit from upbeat music because it stimulates them, especially when it’s played periodically. In this case, music not only positively affects productivity, but it makes for happier employees. Best Choices for Music in the Office:

Familiar Music

When you’re listening to music at work, it’s better to choose songs that you are familiar with because the mind tends to listen more intently to songs that are new to you.

Music in the Major Key

Research from the American Psychological Association shows that listening to background music that is in the major key results in better productivity. Popular songs in major keys include “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, “Because of You” by 98 Degrees, “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles, “From This Moment On” by Shania Twain, and “With or Without You” by U2.

Classical Music

Classical music, especially Baroque, is ideal for music in the office. Not only is it without distracting lyrics, but one study indicates that this particular style of classical music actually has a quantifiable influence on workplace productivity. Best choices include Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel.

Ambient Electronica Music

This style of music is also an excellent option as it tends to be repetitive, rhythmic, and unaccompanied by lyrics. Good tracks are Orbital’s “Halycon + On + On,” Brian Eno’s “Always Returning,” Teebs’ “Track 04,” Kraftwerk’s “Ruckzuck,” and Sun Electric’s “Entrance.”

Video Game Music

Music composed for video games is usually enjoyable without being distracting to the player; therefore, it’s suitable for the office as well.


A recent study shows that soundscapes, or sounds from natural environments like jungles or beaches, improves employees’ ability to focus on work.


Whether the music itself has a direct impact on your productivity or it just improves your mood and that, in turn, affects your productivity, it’s clear that music can be a benefit in the office—so long as you’re not piping the soundtrack to Psycho through the PA system.

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