The Sound of Wellness: How Music Tunes Up Workplace Productivity

Americans spend more than 30 hours every week listening to one form of music or the other. From hip hop, jazz, and rock to soul music; music entertains, livens up our moods, and serves as an escape from the struggles of everyday life. Regardless of what type you enjoy, music arguably evokes powerful emotions and has positive effects on your mind and soul.

But what if employees - and business owners alike - can harness this powerful energy of music into the workplace?

Many business owners are beginning to think in this direction, seeing its potential impact on employee health and performance.

In Deloitte, music has become an important part of the office routine. More than 80 percent of employees in Delloite who participated in music lessons report having a more positive attitude about work and their employer.

Similarly, a study by Barry Bittman, MD showed that a workplace music program for long-term healthcare workers in a multidisciplinary group reduced the employee turnover rate by 18.3 percent, saving the group more than $89,000 USD every year.

But how does music exert these effects on workplace productivity? How does music impart our minds at work?

The Science of Music in the Office

Music does more than get us through the day, it has the potency to improve how we work. Here are a few ways music improves our work performance.

Improves Learning and Memory

Both passive listening and music therapy improve cognitive functions. These include our memory, ability to process information, and ability to execute a task.  However, this depends on the type of music being listened to.

For instance, researchers found that listening to Mozart while reading, in a group of college students, improved their spatial abilities. This association has been aptly described as the Mozart effect.

Researchers found that listening to classical music activates the left and right halves of the brain at the same time, and this optimizes learning and memory. Although this improvement in spatial abilities with classical music is short-term - lasting about 12 minutes - continuous exposure to music may cause long-lasting effects.

On the flip side, music may make learning a new material much more difficult. Regardless of the sound or tone, listening to music may impair your ability to analyze and recall new information.

Improves Focus

If you find that your mind wavers about when performing a task, it may help to plug in your headphones and listen to a familiar piece of music.

In addition, music can make workers better engaged at work. According to Dr. Sood at the Mayo Clinic, 20 minutes of listening to music could help employees regain concentration on the task at hand when overwhelmed with work, for instance.

With greater focus comes faster results.

Research by neuropsychologists at Mindlab International found that 81 percent of workers completed their work much faster when music is playing, and 58 percent of people completed tasks involving data entry much faster when listening to pop music.

Another study at the Frost School of Music of the University of Miami found that IT specialists who listened to music while working finished their tasks faster and came up with better ideas.

Generally, certain types of music exert different effects on focus and concentration; classical music or meditation music is ideal for concentration on linguistic tasks; hip-hop music may help improve focus on non-linguistic tasks, and; trance dance music increases your speed while performing a mechanical task.

Conversely, avoid new music if you must focus on your task; this is because listening to new or an unfamiliar piece of music may keep your mind focused on the music rather than the task at hand.

Improves Task Accuracy

When you are focused on a task at hand, you are more likely to produce accurate results.

Findings from the Mindlab study revealed that nine out of ten workers performed better and produced more accurate results than when working in silence.

The research also reveals how different types of music affect our accuracy at work: Nine out of ten people who listen to ambient music are more likely to enter data accurately; classical music improves accuracy by up to 12 percent, and; pop music improves accuracy by over 80 percent.

The golden rule is: If your job involves linguistic processing, such as reading, choose music without lyrics.

Secondly, If you choose to play music publicly - in an open office, for instance - ask other staff members about their preferences.

Relieves Stress

Stress is a major element that kills employee productivity. The pressure at the workplace takes its toll on our emotional, mental, and physical well-being, stunting our capacity for optimal performance. Music can overturn what stress does to us at work.

According to Chinese musical therapy, listening to your favorite songs - regardless of the genre - evokes a sense of calmness, improves your mood,  and allows you to respond better to stressors.

In addition, music - particularly classical music - improves heart rate and blood pressure, giving you extra benefits.

Scientists explain the biological reason for this link between music and stress relief: music stimulates the release of "feel-good hormones", the endorphins. These hormones cause us to feel relaxed and at ease. Furthermore, a study by Barry Bittman, MD. reveals that playing a musical instrument can cause several changes in the body that reverse stress at a genomic level.

When we are less stressed, we are more likely to concentrate on the task at hand and function at our best.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of music that relieves anxiety or stress. For some people, even the sounds of rain with a background of jazz music can do the trick. The type of music that reduces tension for you may not be the same for a co-worker. So you need to find what type of songs relax you and play them.

Given music's powerful influence over people's cognition and productivity, it may be essential for business owners and employers to rethink office design and incorporate appropriate soundscapes in the right workspaces. If done right, music can unlock peak creativity and productivity among employees, creating a huge competitive advantage for your business.