Listening to Music While Working At Fast Food Jobs

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about music  and food prep:

This question is about the whole productivity vs. listening to music question. I was wondering if you knew of any studies relating to food preparation jobs or more specifically fast food jobs.

Signed, Whistling While I Work

Dear Whistling While I Work:

I’m sorry, I don’t know of any specific studies about fast food restaurants and listening to music. I assume you’re referring to personal headsets not the overhead music that is heard in many fast food places anyway. We do have a number of questions about this in our archives, but many are in warehouse or similar settings. In addition, many are older and our opinions, as well as the opinions of some others, have changed somewhat about listening to personal music devices at work.

The few studies I have seen have reported that employees felt they were more productive when listening to music of their choice. But, of course they would say that if they wanted to listen to music! There would be no way to test the matter with any validity, unless employees did exactly the same work all day and didn’t know there were measurements with and without music.If you check the Internet you’ll find a number of sites with etiquette for using personal music devices or for wearing earbuds or headsets to listen to music.

Here are some that I usually talk to employees about:

1. If you wear headsets or earbuds you must take care that you can hear others when they talk to you and that you can hear machinery and emergency sounds or alarms. Keep the volume turned to a level that allows you to hear things around you, not so loud that you immerse yourself in the music and ignore everything else.

2. If you’re listening to music you should still be “present” in your workplace and not “zone out” all shift. I suggest that employees turn off their music two or three times an hour and interact with others appropriately for a few minutes. Sadly, if everyone is listening to music, no one ever interacts with anyone else.

3. If you’re listening to music and someone comes up to your work area with a clear intent to talk to you, take your earbuds out or your headphones off and communicate, rather than ignoring them until they more forcefully get your attention. This will also help you avoid the much louder tone that many people use when they talk while wearing earbuds or headsets.

4. If a coworker needs to communicate with you while you’re listening to music, you should not act irritated at the interruption. Work comes first and the music is down the line in priority. Go out of your way to show others that you are willing to be interrupted as needed.

5. Do not sing or hum along with the music, or laugh or comment on things only you can hear.

6. Wear headsets and earbuds that do not allow the sound to leak out so much that others can’t avoid hearing some noise, even if slight. It’s very distracting.

7. Do not leave earbuds and headsets on the workspace or property of others or out on counter tops, especially in food areas. If the devices are wired, do not let the wires get in the way of work items or get snagged or caught on drawer pulls. I’m sure there are some other etiquette and work issues, but those are the main ones I discuss with employees.

One advantage of having employees listening to music while doing work that doesn’t require very close attention is that employees are then less likely to gossip, complain or stop work to talk. So, that may be something to mention!

The bottom line is that many organizations are changing their minds about this issue and more and more workplaces that don’t involve frequent customer interaction are allowing the use of personal music devices. The problem that managers have is that if it doesn’t work out well, it’s hard to stop it once it’s been started.It seems most likely to be allowed where employees are already doing good work and the manager knows they can be trusted to work well. It also helps if employees give the manager a commitment that they will not abuse the privilege and will still be responsive and participative.

Some employees will choose to not listen to music or radio using headphones or earbuds. They may feel more isolated than those who are listening and this is something that must be handled based on how the office or business works best.If you are part of a fast food chain, perhaps your company’s national office has some thoughts that could help your local manager decide. Or, you could look around at other fast food places and see if any of the food preparers are listening to music or anything else. You could then talk to the manager and find out if there is a policy about it and how it’s working.Best wishes to you about this matter. If you find out something we can share with our readers, let us know!

Tina Lewis Rowe