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.

An interesting experimental study was conducted by Christine Phillips “Does Background Music Impact Computer Task Performance?” Witchita University  Seventy-two undergraduate and graduate students with an average age of about 23 completed a lost on the moon task in pairs as they were exposed to either Classical music, Punk music, or No Music. Results indicate that those in the Classical music condition performed better on the problem solving-task than those in the Punk music or No Music conditions. Another study testing the effect of music vs. no music for 56 employees doing software tasks found that productivity was best with no music. Psychology of Music, Vol. 33, 173-191, (2005). site has addressed a varied of music/work questions. For example in Can Music Be A Motivator? say Research supports the practice.

Music not only marches soldiers to war, soothes the depressed and manic, occupies us as we wait in elevators and doctors’ waiting rooms, and entertains us while going to and from work, but also is used to cover the noise of department store shoppers, office machines and production lines, and to generate higher performance . . . Literature searches of business indices with the words “music and work” turn up a number of citations. Some of them report experimental studies comparing groups working with music to control groups with no music with work.

One study compared workers who chose their own music (headsets) versus music selected for all by management. Privately chosen music appears to improve morale. One article asserts, although with little evidence, that music is essential to creating a healthy work environment and more productive employees. Another reports that pharmacists surveyed said that “fun should be part of the workday” and music was one way to have fun while they worked.

Human Resources Magazine (1996), v 41, reports a study by researchers at the University of Illinois that concluded “listening to music may increase the output of employees in all types of work,” a 6.3% increase as compared with a no-music control group. Cigna Corporation piloted a program in which groups of employees were encouraged to take healthy breaks of up to 15 minutes during the work day, breaks that include ways to tackle tension, stretch sanity, and music. Some workers need to hear and/or read complex information, and these tasks can be performed best with the least distraction possible.

Therefore, we should be cautious of any blanket statement indicating that music motivates productivity across the board. In another Q&A Can Music Be A Motivator? Workplace Doctor Dan West’s advice deserves your attention: What Type Of Music Is Best For The Workplace? Dan lists a number of studies and I’m added several others here and more detailed descriptions following these citations: Arkes, H. R., Rettig, L. E., & Scougale, J. D. (1986). The effect of concurrent task complexity and music experience on performance on preference for simple and complex music. Psychomusicology, 6, 51-60. Cockerton, T., Moore, S., & Norman, D. (1997). Cognitive test performance and background music. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 1435-1438. Hall, J. & Watson, W. H. (1970). The effects of a normative intervention on group decision-making performance. Human Relations, 23, 299-371. Hallman, S., Price, J. & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school pupil’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28, 111-122. Jensen, K. (2001). The effects of selected classical music on self-disclosure. Journal of Music Therapy, 38, 2-27. Nantais, K. M., & Schellenberg, E. G. (1999). The Mozart effect: an artifact of preference. Psychological Science, 10, 370-372. Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365, 611. Quite a careful answer is found to the question: Does listening to music improve productivity? In Copyright © Kutchka 2008. No author of this article is listed. I’m quoting from that article here: “There are many people who like to listen to music while they work and I am certainly one of them. I find it helps me focus more on the task at hand.

Of course I sure it is also true that there are people who listen to music because it helps them NOT to focus on their job. “Whilst there may be many reasons for wishing to listen to music in the workplace, can it really improve your productivity? “We know that music can alter your mood. Films have been using musical scores for years to create the right mood for a scene. At times you hardly notice the music at all but you are very receptive to the mood being conveyed. So can we use music to put us in a “productive” mood? “Research seems to support such a claim. For example, a trial where 75 out of 256 workers at a large retail company were issued with personal stereos to wear at work for four weeks showed a 10% increase in productivity for the headphone wearers.

Other similar research conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois found a 6.3% increase when compared with the no music control group. “Which music is best? So if we accept that music does increase productivity, does it matter what types of music we listen to? Does all music have the same effect or are certain types better in certain circumstances? “If your goal is to increase your concentration then music which has a constant, easy beat and light melodies are recommended. These are said to be good for those trying to study as they help you pace your reading to aid focus and memorising. Baroque music is reported as an excellent example, especially the works of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel. “Rock music can have a similar effect. According to a report in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology, the Russian A cademy of Sciences discovered that a person’s ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background. “If you are aiming to be more productive through being more relaxed, then you may be interested to learn that research has shown that music with an upbeat rhythm can reduce stress hormone levels by as much as 41%.” You also might find of interest an article by Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY She reports: “More than 40 million Apple iPods have been sold as of January, and at offices all around the USA employees can be seen working or walking the halls with the telltale white Apple iPod ear buds that trail from the portable MP3 players. Use of MP3 players tends to vary with job type. Eighty percent of technical and creative workers listen to music more than 20% of their working hours, according to research on MP3 use by CIMI, a Voorhees, N.J.- based research and technology assessment firm.” “At the management level, the proportion of workers listening to music more than a fifth of the time drops to 20%. About 40% of clerical workers listen to music more than 20% of their working day.”She also notes that not all jobs are suitable for music: And that “IPods can pose a distraction and may prevent the wearer from hearing warning alarms and bells or warnings shouted by co-workers, e-mails Linda Tapp, of Crown Safety in Cherry Hill, N.J. MP3 players can prevent wearers from hearing other workplace sounds such as moving forklifts, which can lead to serious injury. MP3s can affect the safety of workers in non-industrial settings as well, she says, by masking the sounds of strangers who are in the area or approaching.” Yet another article of interest on the topic is A sample of U.S. 1,613 employees were interviewed in August of 2006 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corporation See Spherion Survey: Workers Say Listening to Music While Working Improves Job Satisfaction, Productivity Its findings: · 82 percent of male adults who listen to a personal music device while working report that it improves their job satisfaction and/or productivity, compared to 76 percent of female adults. · Similarly, 24 percent of female workers who listen to a personal music device while working indicate that it improves neither job satisfaction nor productivity, compared to 18 percent of adult males. · Almost half (48 percent) of adults aged 25 to 29 say they listen to music on an iPod, MP3 player or similar personal music device while working—more than any other age group. · Adults aged 50 to 64 are least likely to listen while working, with only 22 percent claiming to do so.

I’m sure this information is more than you ever wanted to know about the effects of music on concentration and productivity. Please feel free to tell us if this is helpful and how you use it in your workplace. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS and probably some music too.

William Gorden