How listening to music at work can increase productivity

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Happy, upbeat music tends to make employees more cooperative and supportive

For many, the most peaceful time of the day may come on their commute into work. Barring traffic jams, bad weather conditions, and other aberrations, it can be a time to have your first cup of coffee, relax, and listen to some music.

Now, a new study shows that workers might benefit from continuing to listen to music when they get to the office. Researchers from Cornell University have found that happy, upbeat music can lead employees to be more productive, cooperative, and work harder for the good of the company or team.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice or not. . . Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it,” said lead author Kevin Kniffin.

Encouraging cooperation

The researchers conducted two studies to see what effect upbeat music had on groups of workers. The songs that the researchers selected included hits like “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Walking on Sunshine.”

In one scenario, researchers analyzed the different effects that happy songs had on workers compared to “unpleasant” songs – such as heavy metal songs from bands that aren’t well-known. The findings showed that group contributions were approximately one-third higher when upbeat music was playing compared to when the heavy metal songs were playing.

To make sure the downfall of working conditions wasn’t completely due to heavy metal music, researchers conducted a second study where participants listened to either upbeat music or no music at all. Much like the first study, the findings showed that workplace contributions were higher for groups when they were able to listen to music.

Multiple benefits

The researchers believe that their findings could potentially help mold a new type of working environment that benefits both employees and employers. While one group is able to enjoy a more supportive workplace, the other may be able to save money and increase productivity.

“What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall,” said researcher Brian Wansink.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site teambuilding exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” added Kniffin.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior

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