"Oh come on! Who put this song on AGAIN?!"
"Are you kidding? It’s a classic."
"I don’t care, it’s been on FIVE times today already!"
At this point I look away and put my headphones on. Partly to drown out the commotion, but also because I can't stand that song, either. I want to listen to my own music.
I hate working in silence. Always have. I find it distracting listening to people tapping away at their keyboards, or slurping their coffee. Music helps me to get "in the zone."
But could music at work be detrimental to effective teamwork? When I put on my headphones to avoid distraction, am I also avoiding opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues?
Music can make the dullest of workspaces feel more warm and welcoming, and it can prompt lively discussion in the office! One co-worker might reminisce about the days of "proper songs," while another pokes fun at his old-fashioned taste.
But what happens when someone keeps putting on the same terrible tunes, or when people begin to avoid certain areas of the office because they find the noise too disruptive?
Is the answer to ban it completely? Perhaps, but no one wants to be known as the "music police." Maybe you just pipe in background songs that can help to lighten the mood without distracting anyone. Chances are, some people will still grumble, so is there an easier way?
One option is to use headphones. No two people are the same, and that goes for their taste in music, too. By using headphones, you can keep yourself happy and motivated without subjecting your colleagues to unwanted noise.
But many bosses don't like headphones. And business journalist Anne Kraemer believes that wearing headphones creates isolation within the workplace, and minimizes career opportunities.
I myself am guilty of increasing the volume on my computer to higher than is strictly necessary. As a result it can be hard for co-workers to get my attention, and even harder for me to recognize when there's an important conversation going on that could benefit from my input.
However, solitude at work isn't always a bad thing. Consider the number of times you just needed a couple hours of deep work, only to be interrupted by colleagues or other distractions. Headphones have become common code for "I'm busy." This simple signal is all your co-workers need to know that you shouldn't be disturbed, because you're "in flow."
People may claim that tunes help them to focus, but where's the proof?
Thankfully for music advocates, the facts are in their favor. Studies show that music can improve performance for nine out of 10 workers. It has the ability to evoke strong emotions, which have been proven to stimulate and engage employees. This same research has also shown that certain songs can help to suppress those emotions that damage productivity, such as anxiety and stress.
Some research has even suggested that we should be tailoring our song choices to the type of work we're doing. For example, classical music reportedly improves accuracy when working with numbers, while dance music can speed up proofreading by 20 percent.
The benefits of music on productivity and morale are seemingly undeniable. But what the data doesn't address is how we should bring it into the workplace. It can be tricky to tread the line between boosting employee performance, and creating a room full of uncommunicative, detached individuals.
The key is to assess the needs of your employees. Does there need to be a constant flow of ideas between colleagues? If so, perhaps headphones are a bad fit for your office culture. Or, do some people struggle to put their heads down and focus, because the hubbub of an open-plan office is too distracting?
I believe that there is a place for music in the workspace, and I certainly don't intend to ditch my tunes altogether. But maybe I'll make an effort to lower the volume.
Do you work better with music, or do you prefer the sound of silence? Let us know your thoughts on music at work in the comments section, below.
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