The benefits of music in the workplace

November 2019 | News

With a leading role in disciplines such as cinema or art, and an ever-increasing presence in leisure, retail and restaurant spaces, music is still the great unknown when it comes to workspaces.

From the arrival of the open space concept, substituting compartmentalised and hierarchical rooms for versatile and multipurpose environments, companies are committed to creating increasingly friendly environments. Other tools have been progressively added to this initial spatial transformation, such as the use of furniture to separate rooms, colour as a generator of emotions, incorporating nature through biophilia, or thermal, acoustic and luminous comfort; and others that are not so tangible, but no less important for the physical and mental well-being of workers, among which, music.

Considered to be one of the most abstract arts and an exceptional artistic sample of humanity, music has a psychological, emotional and physical effect on listeners. By boosting the production of dopamine, the brain is capable of provoking different feelings, ranging from joy, euphoria, relaxation or excitement, to other less positive ones, such as sadness, fear, anguish or pain. Therefore, to achieve the right reaction in the listener, it is essential to know what type of music to choose, according to each moment and situation.

Despite being a relatively new aspect, the influence of music on work environments and its beneficial effects on workers started being researched as early as the middle of the 20th century. Since then, psychologists and researchers such as F. H. Kirkpatrick, W. Wokoun and J. G. Fox have demonstrated that, apart from increasing productivity in tasks that require high levels of attention and cognitive demand, reducing stress and boosting creativity, continuously listening to music improves the emotional state.

Used throughout history as a powerful tool for influencing behaviour, music helps to transform emotions.

Whether it is the structure of the music itself that provokes all these effects, or the emotion that listening to music provokes that influences workers in a positive way, research in 2001 by W.F. Thompson, E.G Schellenberg and G. Husain attributed the so-called benefits of the 'Mozart Effect' not to the musical structure of Mozart's sonata, but to the emotion it aroused in listeners.

For Marcel Meyers, an assistant lecturer at the University of Navarra, companies no longer only value music due to its influence on consumer behaviour, but also for the positive effects it generates on their employees, making it necessary to research the social dimension of music and how it can foster social skills in the workplace.

Once the benefits of music in the workplace have been shown, the next step is to choose the most appropriate genre for each task, because just as it can increase productivity and reduce stress, music can also have the opposite effect if the wrong type of music is chosen. Regardless of tastes, research has shown that there is music that is suitable for each type of task being carried out.

Progressive `playlists are perfect to get the day off to a start, as the human brain needs a little 'push' before carrying out a task. That is why experts recommend starting with more fun and motivating songs, which progressively become slower as workers approach the relaxation period or mid-morning concentration levels.

Although many studies highlight classical music as the best to work with, we cannot generalise. The type of music must be adapted to each task, as each genre activates different regions of the brain.

While for mechanical and more monotonous tasks, dance, electronic, rock or pop music are suitable, for work involving greater mental intensity and attention to detail classical music, jazz or melodic themes with no lyrics are recommended. On other occasions, a varied playlist without abrupt or constant changes that distract us can be of great help while working, as each song will keep a different part of the brain stimulated.

Sharing music in the same workspace is often complicated. The diversity of tasks and moods often means that the solution lies in individual listening. However, listening to music on headphones is not the same as listening on the computer, much less from in-wall speakers. Direct sound sources can negatively affect productivity, so it is essential for those responsible to distribute the sound sources properly.

However, despite its many benefits, the absence of music is sometimes necessary, in times of mental block, when we need to really concentrate, or because we simply want silence. Because, beyond establishing rules, it is a question of finding the best solution at all times.

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