Does music in the workplace help or hinder productivity?

Music is an integral and powerful tool that you should be leveraging for your business. Want to create the perfect atmosphere in your café, store or practice? Want team members who are engaged, more positive, have increased levels of concentration and feel inspired? The answer is at your fingertips: add tunes. We explain what you need to consider to ensure a harmonious outcome.

Fine-tuning team culture

At 5pm every Friday, marketer Alice Redman’s boss would play I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston. What started as a (slightly bizarre) tradition quickly gained cult status. It signalled ‘tools down’ and the arrival of Friday drinks. It was cheesy enough that everyone would eventually be tapping and singing along. It was a tradition Alice took with her when she relocated to a new workplace – and apparently, several of her co-workers did too. A ‘theme song’ may be slightly cringeworthy, but done well, it can also give your team a common link to rally around.

You can play it when you make a big sale, serve the final customer, clean the last plate or pack away the tools. Use music as an incentive, such as allowing the top-performing team member to control the tunes. Or simply encourage your team to create a shared playlist on Spotify and enjoy the teasing and enjoyment that comes with learning what others enjoy – and don’t!

The right music can help you work more efficiently

Putting energy and happiness on repeat

“Encouraging music at work could create new ground in promoting wellbeing in the workplace,” says Anne Blair from APRA AMCOS, Australia’s music rights management organisation. Research indicates that workers actually perform better and faster when listening to music, and team members have also claimed to feel less stressed. With stress-related work absences costing Australian employers $30 billion annually, it could also play a role in saving your business money.

Creating connections with your customers

Music is a simple way to demonstrate to your customers what you're about. It's a sensory example of the vibe you're trying to create. Researchers have shown that businesses that play music that complements their brand identity are 96 per cent more likely to be remembered by customers than those playing no music at all, or music that clashed with their brand perception.

In retail environments, 78 per cent of Brits actually claimed that hearing music play in the change room made them feel ‘more patient.’ "The right music makes a huge difference to the happiness of customers, their level of patience, and their perception of your business,” enthuses Blair. Sydney dentist Geoff Thomas even encourages his customers to supply curated tunes while in the chair to soothe them during check-ups and procedures. “Music masks the equipment noise and helps to relax and distract,” explains Thomas.

The power of plugging in

If you work in a shared space and everyone has different tastes, headphones support individuality. It’s worth exploring – even if it may seem anti-social to have the whole team plugged in. “Letting employees play the music they select themselves makes for happier employees,” explains Blair. “Finnish researchers used an MRI to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, such as rhythm, tonality and timbre. They discovered that listening to music activates areas responsible for movement, emotions and creativity.” For example, listening to pop music is said to be best for data entry. Classical is believed to improve accuracy and is recommended if you work with numbers, and perhaps surprisingly, dance music saw team members deliver the highest overall accuracy and fastest performance across a range of work tasks. 

When too loud can be too much

Despite its positive effects on productivity and attitude in the workplace, there are occasions when you should reconsider your musical approach. Daniel Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of This is Your Brain on Music explained to Business Insider that just because you feel like you’re having more fun, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily being more productive. He actually believes that non-monotonous work that requires intellectual thought processes (like reading and writing) shouldn't be accompanied by a soundtrack.

Rather, he encourages people to listen to music before they start working, reiterating that the dopamine burst produced will set you up for a successful output. However, if things are repetitive or mundane, then music can assist in breaking up the monotony. Even if it's difficult work but you're well-versed in it, music can help. For example, surgeons executing a procedure they’ve done many times before have been shown to perform better while listening to music they enjoy. Rule of thumb: if you’re trying to get your head around new information, then switch the music off.

Background music in the foreground

While some businesses have found their music actually makes a statement, others prefer to engage a more subtle approach via background music. 84 per cent of hairdressers believe background music makes their business more successful, welcoming and increases return visits. Use music effectively to attract the customers you want through the door and retain them while they’re there. “Music encourages customers to stay longer, spend more and keeps them satisfied,” explains APRA AMCOS.

When it comes to cafés and restaurants, it's important to consider the role of music in creating ambience.

73 per cent of bars, pubs and clubs surveyed recently said that playing music increases their sales. Millennials (aged 18-34) are more likely to claim a negative reaction to being in a restaurant without music. It may seem far-fetched, but music plays a role in influencing menu choices and making people eat faster to support table turnover. Live music is another consideration that may completely invigorate your business while adding a unique and energetic point of difference.


Music plays a role in influencing menu choices

What you can play and where

Sold on the value but not sure if you have the rights to turn up the tunes? “You can play all the music you like in your car or your home without paying for a licence. This is considered domestic use," explains Blair. "If you play music anywhere else, for example in a business to enhance the overall experience [like a restaurant or retail store], you're trading on music and need to arrange permission (a licence) from the copyright owners.” (And yes, this includes playing music from your Spotify account, the radio, your smart phone or TV.)

“Playing music without a licence [or direct permission from copyright owners] in this environment directly breaches the Copyright Act. The songwriters, composers or publishers who own the copyright can seek damages, issue an injunction or insist on criminal penalties,” warns Blair. There is a simple solution, however. An APRA AMCOS licence allows you to legally play music at your premises, as well as play hold music. Visit the website for more information.

Safety first

Most jobsites have music blaring but a set of speakers doesn’t usually compete with a jackhammer or power tools. Regardless, you shouldn’t crank up the volume if your workplace relies on clear verbal communication. On a jobsite, you need to hear someone shout a warning. In a kitchen, you need to know when there’s a hot plate on the move. Consider how people hear in your workspace when setting the volume. (Although, the thought of a group of builders blaring Whitney Houston on a Friday afternoon is pretty great.)