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Friday, September 17, 2010

What's the best music for the workplace? (Yet, another logic problem to solve.)

Imagine it's your job to choose the music that plays in the background at your workplace.

That's great!

You love music.  You love all kinds of music.

You plug in your Ipod and start listening, actively, mentally sorting the songs that inspire and touch you. 

Then, you become aware of a question humming beneath the surface of your enthusiasm:  'What if my taste in music isn't the same as other people's?  Do I have a right to assign my taste to them and expect them to like it?"  (How would you feel if someone did this to you in the name of doing it for you?)

Stop:  Is this the best logical question to ask that will produce the answer to the question: which music is best for the workplace?

You continue to listen to music, but you switch off the Ipod.  Because, after all, it's loaded with your faves. 

So, you start listening to the radio, tapping buttons, moving from genre to genre:  Country to NPR.  The good news:  you like it all.  Something inside of you unbends.  Most people are pretty cool.  How could you go wrong choosing music?  You consider picking this; you think you will pick that.

Stop:  What's the problem here?  You're still choosing music that people might like.  But is that really the best question for choosing music for the workplace?

You turn off the music, and begin to listen to the silence.  It's hard because you have work to do.  Your list of chores calls you, and at the top of it is that really simple job:  find music for the workplace. So far, you haven't settled on any one piece of music or type.

Stop:  Here's where you ask the question:  what job does music do in the workplace?   Pick one:
1. Provides a tranquil background sound
2.  Enlivens workers to work harder
3.  Adds familiar melodies that feel like home
4.  Keeps people in a humming state of mind

It might.  But music can also bombard, annoy, assault, wear out listeners with even love songs that take them in their emotions to too many historic occurrences that cause them to lose focus. They could start crying on the job!

Now, you begin to think that the person who assigned you this job has put you in a very dangerous position.  The answer--finding the music for the workplace--feels like a test no one can pass.  But you have to do the job because that's what work is.  Instantly, you don't like the job anymore. Now, music that you loved hurts your nerves.  You begin to doubt your own taste.

Stop:  That's emotional.  In the workplace, most decisions are based on logical analysis of the problem, envisioning the possible solutions and choosing the one that's most likely to meet the greatest need.

What's the best question you can think of to produce an answer that leads to choosing music that will meet that need?  Will annoy the fewest people and motivate the greatest number to work at a good pace in a positive frame of mind?

Add that question to the comments below, and the genre of type of music that you think meets that goal, if you think you know the answer.  Is it time to investigate that elusive genre of music:  elevator music?  Now,  you can infer logically how that genre emerged, can't you? 

You might also investigate the Mozart Effect, and ask yourself if it is real or imagined.  How can you justify the answer?

Words for the day:  elevator music, Mozart Effect, NPR, Country, personal taste, group dynamic


  1. Question: Does the music avoid the use of a rhythmic, driving beat?

    Music: Either Classical or none

  2. Question: Is the chosen music free of repetitive factors, such as repeated, overused lyrics, and does the music fit the overall mood you want to achieve in the particular workplace?

    Answer: A perfect answer is almost impossible to arrive at until the workplace has been determined. This will play a part in deciding which genre of music is suitable for your needs. In general, classical or purely instrumental music may suffice, so long as it doesn't become too repetitive and annoying. Music without lyrics comes very close to being "neutral" in that it is not as likely to offend someone or cause an emotional attachment. Sinatra music can offer an upbeat, light-hearted, classic mood for the listener. However, some Sinatra songs are slow and ballad-like, which may bring down the morale of workers (and it may even put them to sleep!). The music should also be chosen based on the age of the workers. Employees will feel more comfortable with music they are familiar with, and they will be more at ease at their job.

  3. Question: Is there a specific genre of music that has proven to increase productivity in a workplace environment?

    People prefer different styles of music. Personal tastes aside, it would make sense to choose a genre of music that motivates but is ambient enough to be considered "background music." This is where, I believe, the term "elevator music" comes from. No one really notices elevator music until everyone stops talking and all excess noise has ceased. I believe it should be the same in a professional environment. The music should only be noticed if I am actively listening for it. Ambient music ranges from acoustic to electronic, light rock and orchestrated. With enough effort, anyone could be able to pick and choose a nearly perfect playlist of songs suitable for almost all music tastes and working environments.

  4. Question: Is the genre of music important to the work performance of employees? Is it best to omit music from the workplace, or should it be played at a particular time of day?

    Music: Classical is the one I would use to get the juices flowing. Classical music is proven to stimulate the mind.

  5. I feel there is no direct answer because there are many lines of work that I think require different motivations. I think it would be silly to play melodic and smooth music on Wall Street -- it's a fast, nervous environment and should require music to push the mood. Now in a slow-paced office, music that is soothing and natural sounding would be ideal, I imagine.

  6. I do not believe that there is a correct answer to having music in the workplace. There are too many factors to be able to please everyone. I feel that best choice is the ipod. It allows for each person to program their music to the mood that they choose. This eleminates any chance of disturbing fellow co-workers as long as the music is not loud. I believe this works well due to the fact that I see it in my office everyday.