Background music in the workplace

Background music has been used in the workplace for centuries. In the Industrial Age women and occasionally orchestras would be hired in the quieter factories to sing and play among the workers. In the Victorian era handloom weavers would sing together to keep awake.

Radio was primarily used as news broadcasting platform, but in 1940, the BBC launched a radio program called “Music While You Work.” It ran twice a day and was made especially for factory workers. Bands booked for the show were instructed to play medleys that would keep the workers’ attention – pieces with an upbeat rhythm to maintain productivity. 

The benefits of background music in the workplace were quickly recognised:

• Increased productivity

• Fewer accidents

• Improved alertness

• Team interaction

Teresa Lesiuk, in a five week study on software developers at the University of Windsor CA, observed that “positive affect and quality-of-work were lowest with no music, while time-on-task was longest when music was removed.” Furthermore, “positive mood change and enhanced perception of design” were recorded with the addition of music.

More recently, various academic studies have proven much of what was already recognised, mainly that music improves productivity. Background music can even prevent days taken off through illness. Research conducted by Entertainment Media Research for MusicWorks found that 1 in 3 employees are less likely to take time off sick if background music workers like is played in the workplace. 

Additional studies have shown that background music in the workplace promotes positive mood, can build team spirit, improves alertness and can reduce the number of workplace accidents. In ‘“Whistle While You Work: An Historical Account of Some Associations Among Music, Work, and Health’, Gordon Marc le Roux claims that music “motivates workers, decreases boredom and leads to increased workplace productivity.”

While the benefits of using background music should be evident, employers ought to consider the type of music played in a workplace to ensure that the mood and style best fits the workforce and their desired behaviour.

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