Pump Up The Volume… Could music improve productivity in your office?

Are you supposed to be working right now? Struggling to concentrate? Distracting yourself from the task at hand by browsing the web? Well the answer to the productivity malaise could be to whack on your favourite tune… well, maybe.

Decades worth of research broadly suggests that listening to music can boost productivity and help to stave off negative emotions like stress and anxiety. Great right? But don’t go dusting off the Queen LP and belting out Bohemian Rhapsody just yet. There are caveats to the theory of performance-boosting tunes. First of all, most of the studies suggest that songs with lyrics will prove to be a distraction for many of us. The urge to sing along or the tendency for lyrical songs to evoke emotional responses could actually end up hindering your productivity rather than aiding it. And someone bellowing along to ‘Wonderwall’ in the office will almost certainly affect everybody else’s performance too!

The key seems to be then to play music that is spiriting, yet monotonous. Perhaps an up-tempo dance tune, a majestic piece of classical music, or perhaps even some good old-fashioned ambient noise – the babbling brook, the crashing waves, the sounds of the rainforest.

The consensus between experts seems to be that the more complex the task you’re trying to complete, the more simple and generic the background music should be. However, there are a couple of anecdotal anomalies to this notion. We often hear stories of surgeons playing pop and rock music in their operating theatres to aid concentration during procedures – hard to think of many more complex duties than life-saving surgery! To a lesser extent, we are told that long periods of revision for students are often soundtracked by their favourite iTunes playlist. So maybe a blast of Oasis could be the answer to your creative brick wall after all…

Ultimately, it all comes down to the individual. For some people, listening to music at work will result in a stellar performance, with them firing on all cylinders. For others, it is a complete and utter distraction that renders their very presence in the office absolutely pointless. Whichever category you fit into, you should probably think carefully about which tracks you load onto the iPod tomorrow morning. Now, altogether after three… ‘I see a little silhouette of a man…’

Here are our top three Christmas tunes for the workplace:

  1. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
  2. Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade
  3. All I want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey