Want To Create a Healthier Office Culture? Start With The Music

Music is a small but powerful way to set the tone of an office while promoting the health of its team at the same time. But it’s crucial that you give your employees a choice of whether they have to listen to music or not.

Seeing dissatisfied, unmotivated employees is routine for most managers, but you’d probably be shocked to learn how just how much money the US is losing from unhappy workers every year.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, unhappy workers cost US companies up to $550 billion a year.

It's challenging but not impossible to turn around an office culture that's been strained and unhealthy for years. In business and around the office, small changes in perception and action can result in distinct, sweeping improvements. And a move as seemingly minute as putting more thought and direction into the music you play in your office could become the catalyst for a sea change regarding the well-being and productivity of your employees. Music is an inexpensive, scientifically proven way to make employees happier, healthier and more productive.

An office corridor at a tech startup

Creating and maintaining a healthy office culture can be an uphill battle without the right tools.

Building and maintaining a healthy work culture around the office can be a full-time job in itself. When negative attitudes and a general lack of enthusiasm in just a few employees go unchecked, there’s a potential for listlessness, apathy, and resentment to spread throughout an office perniciously. And while it’s sometimes easy to single out one or two bad actors, the causes behind deep-seated problems facing an office’s work environment are often considerably more difficult to identify and address.

The average worker spends about 1,840 hours a year on the job, and white-collar employees spend most if not all of these hours in the office. It's paramount to make sure that the physical and emotional space your employees spend the majority of their time working in is healthy, safe and productive. But sometimes worker dissatisfaction remains challenging to identify and avoid even if your office has already made efforts to make the workplace a welcoming place for its employees.

“The average worker spends about 1,840 hours a year on the job”

Everyone can relate to feeling bored, uninspired and hopeless in their work. Whether it’s the mandatory drudgery we all feel during tax season or the fight to stay awake while filling out stacks of paperwork at our jobs, we’ve all experienced that “over it” feeling in our lives, no matter how successful we’ve become. And for most people, feelings of boredom and apathy associated with their work provide an ideal breeding ground for distraction, resentment and other serious problems offices go great lengths to avoid.

There is no single solution for keeping a diverse team of employees interested and engaged in their work. Like the individual people who form teams in offices, every office tells a different story informed by its unique methods of working, company history and management style. Yes, different offices require different ways of developing health work cultures, but every office needs the right tools to help them do it. And believe it or not, music is one of the easiest and most effective ways of turning a collective work enthusiasm problem around.

An office landscape during lunch.

How music shapes our world.

If you’re not an especially musical person, you might think the music in restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores doesn’t have much bearing on the mood and atmosphere of a place. But you’d be mistaken. Music has an incredible impact on our perceptions of a space whether we realize it or not.

Our culture has powerful associations with music that everyone from dance clubs to horror movie soundtrack composers routinely use to their advantage. If you’ve ever walked into a store and have felt an instant burst of energy, there’s a good chance that the space you entered was playing curated music designed to get customers excited and engaged. Smart music selections can work in tandem with the moods, expectations, and perceptions of its intended audience to produce tangible results that include everything from customers purchasing more in stores to movie audiences feeling uneasy or even scared out of their wits.

In addition to the ability to persuade and engage, music also has incredible powers of dissuasion. A 2011 Los Angeles Times article detailed classical music’s unique modern role in keeping loitering teenagers away from public spaces. “Whether it’s Handel piped into New York's Port Authority or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice. Private institutions also find it useful: chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.”

So, how do you use music as a tool to engage your office rather than to put your employees to sleep or have them running for the door? The science behind music’s effect on the brain offers significant clues.

Office workers in a brainstorming session.

The science behind music’s benefit on health, creativity and happiness.

There’s a mountain of scientific evidence proving that the right kind of music has the potential to increase health and productivity in workers. Many factors go into this, but one of the main reasons is that music releases powerful chemicals in the brain that can make us feel happy and energized. A New York Times article touting music’s profound impact in the workplace published in 2012 describes the phenomenon: “In biological terms, melodious sounds help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain, as would eating a delicacy, looking at something appealing or smelling a pleasant aroma, said Dr. Amit Sood, a physician of integrative medicine with the Mayo Clinic.”

But as it turns out, music has more significant effects on the brain than just inspiring happiness and elation. In 2005, a music therapy researcher named Teresa Lesiuk based at the University of Miami published an article linking music’s astounding ability to prevent and reduce anxiety and stress. “Music may also serve as an anxiolytic treatment, that is, an anxiety preventative or anxiety-reducing measure. Knight and Rickard (2001) explored the effect of sedative music on participants’ subjective and physiological stress levels following a cognitive stressor involving preparation of an oral presentation. Significant increases in physiological stress were reported for those who prepared the task without music, while the presence of music suppressed significant increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate.” The article goes on to profile music’s positive effect on creative output and spacial reasoning.

“Listening to music helps boost their personal well-being. It’s a well know fact that well-being at work is good for work performance”

— Dr. Anneli Haake

Dr. Anneli Haake, a researcher who studies music’s impact on health and the workplace published some of her findings of a recent study called The Sound of Productivity in a 2016 article. “Over half the people in this study use music to change their mood or to mirror their emotions. In other words, listening to music helps boost their personal well-being. It’s a well know fact that well-being at work is good for work performance. The science behind this is that even mild positive emotions have the ability to increase what we can recall in our minds. In other words, (music) can help to stimulate new thoughts and memories. The end result can lead to increased creativity.”

In another article, Haake goes on to explain that while music can be highly beneficial for office workers, there is one caveat. “The most important thing is to have control over what you are listening to and if you are listening or not. Being forced to listen to music when working can be both annoying and stressful.”

Music is a small but powerful way to set the tone of an office while promoting the health of its team at the same time, but it’s important that you give your employees a choice of whether they have to listen to music or not.


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