Q: Can listening to music help your workers to concentrate, or does it just provide a distraction?
A: Many people use music as a form of background noise whilst they work, because they feel that it helps them to concentrate on the task at hand. Certainly for many this may be true, and there are numerous studies that support this claim.
Some say that music can provide an added distraction, and researchers at the University of Cardiff found that students were less able to memorise lists of numbers and words when they listened to background music than when they attempted the task in silence.
However, research from the University of Windsor in Canada showed the opposite. They tested a group of software designers and found that the quality of their work was higher when they listened to music; they were quicker to do tasks, and reported feeling more positive too.
It would seem that music is not helpful to those who are undertaking data based tasks, but for those who are required to problem solve or think creatively it can make a marked improvement. If you are considering allowing your staff to listen to music at work, it is important to remember that everyone is different. Each member of your team will have a different way of learning, working and performing tasks. Some may benefit from music, whereas others may find it distracting. Some may enjoy upbeat music to keep them motivated, whereas others may prefer more relaxed instrumental music to focus their attention. Others may shun music entirely and opt for natural atmospheric sounds such as rainfall, bird song or the waves of ocean.
The best approach to such a strongly debated issue is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather to let people choose for themselves. Provide headphones for your workers and allow them to choose from a range of sounds and music. Keep an eye on their productivity, and once they are able to better customise their working environment to suit their own needs you should see an improvement in their work.