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.

First you will read Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe’s detailed answer to a question such as yours. Following her advice, you will see several answers I have sent individuals who either want to turn radios off or on in their work areas. The citation of each answer is provided: Safety is the most important concern; however here are some thoughts, which I wrote to someone in a government office setting, but which could apply to an industrial setting as well.

1. The issue of whether or not to allow the use of MP3 players includes a variety of issues that should be considered before a decision is made.*Can employees do their work effectively and safely if their ability to hear and respond to noises around them is obstructed partially or completely? (The answer to that question will depend upon the overall work environment and specific tasks.) *If the task normally requires wearing ear protection, could a listening device provide sufficient consistent and continuous protection? (The answer to that question would be no, and there are OSHA regulations about the requirements for hearing protection.)*Could listening to music or any other noise through ear-buds or headphones for hours at a time daily, cause hearing damage? The answer to that is yes, based on many studies about it. Could the organization be held liable for encouraging such continual use, even if it is not required? That depends on the views of a jury or judge; or the need for an out of court settlement.*Does wearing ear-buds or headphones have a negative affect on human interaction that is beneficial for doing the work or for developing the appropriate team environment?*Could listening to music, books or other audio entertainment cause employees to do something that would be distracting or irritating to others. If so, how will that be prevented or what will be done about it? (One supervisor told me that one employee would hum or sing along to the music, while another would move his head back and forth or play an air-guitar!)*Could listening to music, books or other audio entertainment distract an employee to a problematic degree?* If listening to music is approved, listening to books, e-magazines and radio stations and will also be possible. Will any one of those not be acceptable, and if so, how will it be possible to know what is being heard?*It is difficult to discern one electronic device from another. An MP3 player may look like a phone, audio-video recorder or camera. Is there some aspect of the work that should not be recorded or photographed, thus making any easily-accessible electronic device a potential problem?

2. A new policy about the use of mp3 players and similar devices should be considered one of organization-wide significance. If a decision is made about it for one group of employees, other groups or individuals will either want to be exempted or want to be included. So, this isn’t a decision to be made by department-level supervisors and managers or HR, without approval from a legal section if you have one, and preferably the CEO or other high level decision-maker. If your organization is unionized, a careful review of any contractual issues that might be involved would also be a good idea.

3. The varying degrees of sophistication about ear-buds or headphones should be considered. Some will completely block any outside sound; others will shut out small sounds in the immediate vicinity; others will allow some outside noise to come through. Is the working situation such that there is a safety reason to hear small sounds as well as large ones in the environment?

For example, in one office employees were stopped from wearing such devices because those who wore them seemed to not notice the phone ringing on the first few rings, often talked too loudly to each other, and had to be touched on the arm to get their attention when someone wanted to talk to them. In similar offices employees watch for the light on the phone and seem to have no problem answering quickly. In other work settings the concerns may be different or not exist at all.

4. Some listening devices will contain the sounds within the ear of the listener while others will allow sound to leak out and be heard to some degree by those near the listener. Is the environment such that there is no risk of distraction to those near employees who are using such devices? These are the kind of things that can create long-term animosity.

5. Not all employees will want to wear listening devices. Will there be adverse results for them? Will they create adverse results for others? Will conflict be created or reduced if some employees are listening to audio entertainment while some are not? Will supervisors and managers also be allowed to listen to audio entertainment?

6. As always, supervision is the key to success, no matter what is decided. If supervisors are openly negative about the policy there will be resentment and resistance by employees. If supervisors consistently and in a civil manner, enforce the policy, it will soon become the norm.

7. It might be beneficial for a supervisor to wear an MP3 player and listen to music while walking through the workspace and stopping to perform some repetitive as well as non-repetitive tasks. That would allow a better understanding of what would be heard or not heard, and the affect it might have on work for most employees. This is not a decision that should be part of a democratic vote. It is a management decision about the work environment.Check our Archives for other Q&As on this topic, and please send us what you and your organization set as policy. If we get more information, that will be forwarded to you. Tina Lewis Rowe Why and why not? There is no law against that?

The issue 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. Those in Human Resources can assist in voicing employees’ concerns and formulating policies that are suited to a particular area and the interests of those within each area. Does this make sense?More Q&As can be found on the topic of radios and noise in our Archives. Whatever might be your motivation for sending this question, what is important is to realize that working together with hands, head, and heart, and that includes ears and eyes, takes and makes big WEGOS. Have that kind of attitude and you can help make your work area and place as a whole a good place to work. Radios?

You say that you have explained to your boss that radios motivate you. They might not always motivate such as drummers have helped soldiers march to war or sports teams to rally against opponents, but they can help you pass the time and keep your morale up. That has not persuaded him to lift his ban. Have you put your selves in his shoes to see why blaring radios cause him to not be heard and to feel that nobody cares much about doing their jobs? In short, have you met with him to help him see how his orders are hurting the way you feel about your jobs?

Might there be other ways to talk with him about radios? For example, what if you and your co-workers would come up with a set of rules for the use of radios in your particular work situation? Do they interfere with good communication between those who need to hear each other? Do some play them so loudly that they annoy some co-workers? Have there been operator errors that could be blamed on the radios?

What do you think are rules of radio use, if any, that make sense and do not cause errors or irritation? Once you and your co-workers come up with a set of rules, it time to meet as a group or a small committee with your boss. Show him the rules and ask if there are any that he would modify. Propose a trial period with the pledge of the group to do good work and to review how the rules work after a week. Bosses don’t want to be disliked. The odds are that with a unified voice of those in your work area that your boss will reconsider his ban. If that doesn’t work, you can get a petition signed by most or all of your co-workers and tell him that you are taking it to Human Resources or up the chain of command. in spaces that are close together takes working out rules that are civil and cooperative. That is the beginning of crossing over troubled waters to the land of WEGO.

Those who work in high decibel environments wear earmuffs. Have you tried earplugs? The suggestion that those who wish to listen should do so with earphones shows respect for those who wish to listen to different stations and/or wish to work in quiet. Meet with your supervisor again this time to express the feeling you have resulting from being thrown to the wolves. A wise facilitator would have helped those in the minority (in your case you say it was only you in one breath and in another that there were some others who agreed with you) to have their suggestions respectfully considered. You can express your opinion again stating that you need it quieter to do a good job. Don’t settle for being a victim.

Some jobs need quiet. Others benefit from social conversation and other distractions. Working together requires respect for jobs that benefit from quiet and for distractions. Getting to WEGO requires persistence. Work goes better with a song. And unless the music is too loud, too disliked, or interferes with vital communication, it can help the day pass more pleasantly. I am attaching two of the many questions we have received about music. Hopefully, they will help you make a case for it or at least provide information that will enable you to talk effectively with your CEO. Meet with him or her. Learn the reason for the Friday ruling about when music is allowed. Respectfully put yourself in the CEO’s shoes before you respond defensively. Then share with him why you and when you and your coworkers would like to be permitted to listen to it. Do let us know what is decided and if our Q&As help.

William Gorden

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.