music productivity work

Does Music Improve Or Kill Productivity?

Clément Fournier

Clément Fournier

Rédacteur en chef

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Apparently, listening to music while working has benefits on concentration, morale, and productivity. Yes, but there are still some rules to respect to avoid falling into opposite excesses.

Listening to music while working and trying to concentrate: are you for or against it? It depends on each person’s sensitivity and way of working, of course. But more and more studies suggest that listening to music at work may help relieve stress, improve concentration and increase productivity. Let’s take a closer look at this issue.

Listening To Music: It’s Useful For Repetitive Tasks

One of the most documented phenomena about music at work is its benefits for people performing repetitive tasks. Indeed, as early as in the 1970s, a study conducted in the Journal of Applied Ergonomics showed that on assembly lines in factories (where repetitive tasks are performed), music could have a positive effect on employee productivity. The study thus concluded that employees exposed to music were on average more efficient in their tasks than the others who weren’t listening to music, especially when the music allowed to cover the ambient noise of the machines. Studies of this type have been repeated several times since and have often confirmed the results.

More recent studies, however, suggest that it is not music directly that improves the efficiency of workers, but rather the effect that music has on the mood of employees – leaving them happier, and by extension more effective at their tasks. A study conducted in 2005 by the Canadian University of Windsor concluded that only melodies built in the major mode (supposed to be linked to a better mood) produce significant positive effects on the productivity of employees. Indeed, listening to harmonious melodies seems to have an effect on the secretion of dopamine (a hormone related to humor) that has a positive effect on cognitive functions.

Music At Work Makes Us More Cooperative

music team meeting

study by Cornell University shows that listening to uplifting and engaging music during workgroup sessions can also have a positive effect on workers’ interactions. The researchers tested different working groups with different types of music (or no music at all), and quantified the interactions that took place in the groups. They found that when a workgroup is exposed to playful music, work interactions between individuals increase by about 30% compared to a situation without music, and a little more than a third compared to a situation with more “violent” or “dark” music.

This tends to prove that certain types of music (the test songs included “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Yellow Submarine” or “Walking on Sunshine”) make employees more confident and confident to speak more easily. It also means promoting dialogue and interaction and therefore, cooperation among teams.

Music And Intellectual Work: Yes Or No?

But what if we need to perform an intellectual work that requires contradiction? First, we must know that music has several effects on our cognition. In addition to the positive effect in our mood, several studies have shown that listening to music gives a sense of control over the sound environment that reduces stress. Moreover, listening to music can have a positive effect on cognitive functions and in particular on our ability to concentrate. 

Indeed, the current knowledge that exists regarding how our brain works suggest we have two “systems of attention. The frontoparietal system, called “dorsal”, is involved in the attention when we need to focus on a task (for example, do a math calculation or read a document). And the frontoparietal system, called “ventral”, that is responsible for identifying and analyzing unexpected events in our sensory environment (such as noise or movement). These two systems work simultaneously, with the ventral system sometimes taking over the back system: for instance, when we’re working on a complex task and we get distracted by some noise.

However, several studies show that listening to music improves our attention span – at least partially as it deactivates the ventral system (or overfills it with continuous and controlled sensory stimulation). As a result, listening to music can allow for a better focus while performing complex tasks. The problem is that this is not true for all types of music. In fact, music with lyrics (in the native language of the listener), or unexpected changes in the music’s rhythm is likely to make it less effective. Also, other studies show that the best ally of intense intellectual work is in fact, total silence. But today, with so many people working in the open spaces, total silence is something that’s almost impossible to get.

How To Listen To Music And Be More Productive At Work?

productivity work music

Using this data, we can come together with a list of tips on what’s the best type of music to choose to stay concentrated and be productive while working:

  • Choose uplifting and dynamic music, especially for repetitive tasks or as background music during group works;
  • Favor instrumental background music without words when performing cognitive tasks;
  • Avoid listening to new music when you are trying to concentrate – “this is new material” thoughts will likely distract you;
  • Use headphones or earbuds to isolate ambient noise that may distract you

Image credits to brainstorming on Shutterstock, coworkers on Shutterstock and headphones on Shutterstock

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