Concentration & Productivity

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about music and productivity:

Are there studies on employees’ concentration and productivity levels with regard to listening to talk radio stations or music while working?

Signed, Listening While Working

Dear Listening While Working:

You can find all sorts of mixed results when researching studies pertaining to the effects of music. I know of no research pertaining to talk radio’s effect on concentration and productivity. Perhaps there are some, and I predict that whether or not worker concentration/productivity is distracted or enhanced by talk radio would depend on the kind of talk radio (ranging from Howard Stern to Rush Limbaugh to NPR) and on the type of task (from repetitive assembly to complex problem solving). There is much research on music’s effect. Do cows give more readily give more milk while music is played? One study reports Yes; however, that study is confounded because the cows also were given beer! Perhaps the most quoted research regarding music on concentration is known as The Mozart Effect. This research found that college students performed better solving mathematical problems when listening to classical music. Apparently cows will produce more milk if Mozart is played without drinking beer.

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Radios–Turn Them Off

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about radios:

I wish to stop the use of radios in my work place – is there a health and safety reason I can call on to enforce this?

Signed, Turn Them Off

Dear Turn Them Off:

What you want, of course, matters most to you, but what matters most in finding the best answer to your question is: What policy regarding radios will make your workplace safe and not interfere with your employees’ concentration or happiness while doing their work?There can be good reasons to have and not to have radios in certain work areas. Those who make policy and the rules need to consider the pros and cons for your particular work areas. Rather than to repeat these considerations, read on and you will discover our attempts to address a host of issues of radios in the workplace.

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Radios In The Workplace

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about policy and place:

Can you have two separate policies about radios, in a manufacturing atmosphere and an enclosed office setting?

Signed, Separate & Unequal

Dear Separate & Unequal:

Why and why not? There is no law against that? The issues is what are policies make for a productive happy workforce and what policies do not interfere with the work within a particular work environment. These are the questions that individuals and managers should ask that pertain to each work area. Safety comes first. Productivity is a close second. Keeping employees happy follows.

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How Can I Overcome Resentment Of My Co-worker?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker irritation: She is always on the phone with some family member or a doctor’s office or someone and it sounds like a crisis. She is very loud and dramatic.

I work in an environment where we work in cubes. When we seated, we cannot see the person in the next cube, but we can hear them. For the most part, people talk on the phone about work related issues. At times, personal calls are made to family members or to handle personal issues. I’ve done it and others have, but in moderation. However, there is one co-worker whose middle name is “Drama Queen.” She is always on the phone with some family member or a doctor’s office or someone and it sounds like a crisis. She is very loud and dramatic.

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Can’t Concentrate Because Of Speakerphone Noise

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about speaker phones:

Our office is long and narrow, with individual offices on each side and open-air cubicles down the middle. I sit in a cubicle and I am constantly frustrated by people that use their speakerphone inappropriately. I have a cubicle on each side of me, and four offices on either side of me. They (mostly the office-dwellers) use their speakerphones to listen to voice mail messages, conference calls and to conduct phone conversations, both business and personal. Invariably, they listen at loud levels and they rarely close their office doors. This is uncalled for, especially since they all have wireless headsets and doors that close. I understand that hitting the speakerphone button is easier than putting your head set on, but couldn’t they at least close their door?

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Managers Make Rules About Cell Phones On Breaks.

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cell phones:

Can managers really say you can’t use your cell phones during break? They say it distracts us.

Signed, Needing To Talk

Dear Needing To Talk:

Any time you are on company property management can set rules for behavior and approved activities. Most companies will allow cell phone use during breaks and lunch as long as the phones are not used in work areas or in common areas where others gather and where the phones could be disturbing and distracting. I would imagine one or more employees has used their phones inappropriately and that has led to the rule. Here are some of the most common frustrations employees write to us about: Loud talking, taking photos, talking about co-workers either obviously or in code, distracting others because of other issues related to the call; being late back to work, spending an entire break time with the phone to the ear and unable to respond to any other communications, playing games on the phone in a way that is distracting, having a jarring ring tone that is irritating or distracting; texting as others are talking; texting in a way that makes others think their conversations are being forwarded and just the general frustration of one sided conversations being heard.

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Cell Phone Usage

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cell phones:

Does an employer have the right to set policy that cell phones be turned in to the supervisor at the beginning of the work day? The employee can retrieve them during their break and at lunch but must turn them in again before returning to work. Is this legal?

Signed, Phone-less

Dear Phone-less:

There are no laws that apply to general work policies. Employers can’t violate the law themselves–so they can’t have policies that violate safety standards, equal employment opportunities, harassment protection and so forth. But the philosophy about workplace policies is that employees are not obligated to work in a place that has policies the employees find offensive. The government does not want to become involved with the varying employment issues of every business. Having said that, I can still understand why the policy about cellphones seems unfair to you.

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Offensive Music At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about offensive music:

After several months at my job I have been told I HAVE to have music pumped into my workspace. The loudness is one issue (I have seen the info in your archives) but my main concern is that many of the songs are of the rap/hip hop genre which have some sexual lyrics that offend me. I cannot wear earplugs and have been told it HAS to be on at a loud level. Any feedback would be appreciated

Signed, Given No Choice

Dear Given No Choice:

For a precise legal opinion you should seek an attorney who specializes in labor issues. Most will provide a free consultation, usually by phone. We can provide you with some thoughts and perspectives that might be helpful as you decide what to do. As you note from our archives, music in the workplace is often the subject of debate. From clothing stores to grocery stores and from warehouses to dentist’s offices, many, many businesses have music on speakers throughout the work area. Usually it’s not possible for the music to be shut-off in small areas. And, from an organization’s viewpoint, there may be a perceived business reason to have music in the background in everyone’s workspace.I seem to be unable to mentally tune-out such “background” music,and am always surprised when others say they don’t hear it at all or they are so used to it they no longer notice it. So, I can empathize with your frustration about it.It’s unfortunate you didn’t know, at the time you were hired, that this would happen. However, unless you can show that some aspect of your civil rights are being violated, you have little or no recourse but to either tolerate it or quit your job and let your employer know the reason why.

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How Do I Gag A Coughing Manager?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss coughing:

Can you help? I work in a large open plan office consisting 20 people. The majority of work for all of us requires a lot of research and concentration, which is difficult to maintain with phones ringing, office chatter, meetings etc. However, this much we bear!

About six months ago, a new female manager was appointed internally, and moved into our office. I heard from colleagues that she was a nightmare to work near, as she has a ‘nervous condition’ that makes her cough incessantly, to the point that she gags! This makes everyone else feel the same! I decide to give her a fair go, as she probably feels as uncomfortable as we do with the situation. Unfortunately, she sits in the center of the office, so all are forced to put up with it.

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Desperate To Bring Music To Work!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about music’s benefits:

I’m trying to get music back into our workplace and am desperate to get the information I need to show our plant manager the benefits of having it. I work in manufacturing of heating and cooling products. Can you send me any and all reports and studies on how music affect the workplace including: if it does or does not increase productivity, attendance, morale, what type of headsets OSHA approves etc. Any college or government studies would really be helpful. Anxious to hear back from you. Thanks.

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