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Music in the Workplace: Tune In or Tune Out?

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 10/11/2016

Pros and cons of employees listening to music at work.
Listening to music is popular among employees as a way to focus and avoid distractions during the workday. Read about the pros and cons of allowing music in order to help you set a policy that makes the most sense for your business and your people.

Table of Contents

Employees each have their own way of getting through the workday, and listening to music is a popular choice. While enjoyable for willing listeners, music can also pose a considerable challenge in the office. HR Magazine says that you can "add music to a long and growing list of workplace trends—such as instant messaging and the ubiquity of Facebook—that flummox some human resource professionals. Advocates praise the music trend for boosting productivity and morale...others fear it as a safety risk that also eats away at team-building opportunities."

There are valid reasons why employees may want to listen to music at work. They often say that they gravitate toward music in the workplace because, to paraphrase:

  • "It makes me feel happy."
  • "I feel like it puts an extra bounce in my step."
  • "It serves as background music, and gives me a rhythm to the workday."

Feeling happy and having a rhythm to the workday can certainly help increase productivity, job satisfaction, and employee morale around the office. But as enjoyable as it can be to have music on while working for some workers, it can also be challenging in many office environments, depending on your policies.

Songs that have religious overtones, risqué lyrics, or racially charged themes can be seen as offensive to others. That's why your company's HR department and employee handbook should address policies regarding playing music; otherwise it could put your company at risk for a discrimination claim based on hostile work environment harassment.

If you are thinking of establishing policies that allow music in the workplace, keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Mandating the use of headphones. To ensure that others aren't distracted by music and/or lyrics, have listeners use headphones. In addition, you may request that they listen to music on their headphones at a lower volume so that they can still be aware of what's going on around them in the office.
  • Don't compromise service or safety. Do the responsibilities of one department allow for listening to music with or without headphones more than for others? If the department and/or employee is constantly servicing customers either in person or on the phone, listening to music may not be an option as it could distract them from performing their job. Also, in areas such as warehouses where listening and being aware of surroundings are integral to workplace safety, music may be something to avoid completely.
  • Outline best-listening practices. Your employee handbook should outline certain types of music to stay away from if you implement company-wide radio. If this leads to problems and conflicts, it may be better to forbid music in the workplace altogether.
  • Act quickly to turn off the noise. If music is deemed offensive to others, make sure you act quickly to resolve the situation. Remember that what seems like appropriate and enjoyable listening for some may be offensive noise to others.
Female author icon
Jennifer Schedlin has her Master’s Degree in Career and Human Resources Development from Rochester Institute of Technology.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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