Office Tunes: A Distraction or Increased Productivity?

Posted by Mark Pilkenton

I love music. I consider myself an enthusiast of good music. As a music enthusiast, my wide-range of music appreciation spans nearly every well-known genre of music, including 50s Jazz through 70s Disco, 80s Rock, 90s Alternative, 2000 Pop and current Country, with everything in between. My tastes in music are as broad as Lake Baikal is deep. I love music.

One of my earliest memories of music was at about the age of 5. For Christmas that year, I received my first tape player, the ever-durable Fisher Price Cassette Player. My parents’ tape collection would be hijacked from that day forward as I enjoyed both sides of every tape in their collection including Air Supply, Hall & Oates, GnR, Journey, Tina Turner, and Rush, to name a few. Leave me with my box of tunes and I’d sing for anyone in earshot of hearing me.

Fast-forward some 30+ years and a full life of music experiences, I find that music can be heard in nearly every hour of my waking day. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy silence and have opportunity to have plenty of it, but the speakers in my car, in my home and at my desk in my office are well-worked.

A recent study works in my favor proving that workers in an office setting benefit greatly with increased focus and productivity by listening to music behind the desk. Researchers at Cornell University state that “happy, upbeat music can lead employees to be more productive, cooperative, and work harder for the good of the company or team.”

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice or not… Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it,” said lead author Kevin Kniffin.

Inspiring Teamwork

Two studies were organized to show how upbeat music affected groups of employees. Songs selected for the study included “Walking on Sunshine,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and “Yellow Submarine,” among others. The study compared how happy or upbeat songs were processed versus obnoxious music, like death-metal songs. The results of the first study showed that productivity increased nearly 33% with pleasant, upbeat music versus unknown, death-metal music.

To eliminate the possibility that death metal music was the cause of lower productivity levels, a second study was conducted in a similar method, but rather than death metal music, no music was played in its place. Still, contributions to productivity were higher in groups with upbeat music than with no music at all.

Increasing Advantages

The results of this study indicate there are benefits to be enjoyed by both employers and employees. Increasing productivity and overall attitude trends towards greater profits overall.

“What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall,” said researcher Brian Wansink.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site team-building exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” added Kniffin.


Let’s keep things real, though. “The Best of Meatloaf” on repeat will not give you the outcome desired.



This particular study can be found published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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