Office Music — Yay or Nay?

There are always two sides to an issue, and listening to music in the office is no different. Although this seems like a somewhat simple problem, I have discovered through my research that employees are constantly complaining about office music rules.

If you want to get the legality side of the issue, every employee has the right to work in an environment where they feel comfortable. Therefore, the music situation has been solved with headphones — or so I thought. As it turns out, there are still problems with both the music enthusiasts and the office music cynics.

Whether you are the employee who is unhappy with the music, the employee who is unhappy with the lack thereof, or the employer trying to figure out what’s best for the office, it is important to understand both sides to the issue. There are solutions, but part of the solution entails understanding where each party is coming from in their opinions. Consider both sides to the story below:

Office Music? No Thanks

First, some people do not speak up about the music issue because they do not want to anger employees who have been working at the company for a long time. Imagine if you were the new guy or the new girl, and everyone has been listening to music for the last year. Do you want to come in and tell everyone you don’t like it and it has to stop? Probably not.

However, the truth is there are probably other employees, ones that have been working there the entire year, who feel the same way you do. There may be an office member who is very outspoken about liking the music, and this can make it even harder to speak up. But the truth is, for some, office music can be distracting. If you fall into this category, consider a few of the following solutions:

  1. Be Casual—Bring up the issue in a casual way to your employees. Make a job about the subject and see how people respond. If you find that there are others bothered by the music (and most people do), then you will feel more comfortable bringing it up to a boss or to the older employees who are used to music. Think of it like a business proposal—it’s just an idea.
  2. Turn Off Speakers—If there is a speaker system, there is usually a way to turn certain speakers off and on. If everyone around you isn’t interested in the music, see if you can turn off the speakers in your area. Some departments can work okay with office music while others need more concentration. Since departments usually sit together, this solution could work brilliantly.
  3. Noise Canceling Headphones—This is certainly the least desirable option, but if you do not feel the issue is big enough to bring to your boss and your co-workers won’t turn off the music, consider bringing in your own headphones. Even if they are not labeled “noise canceling,” this option could very well solve the problem.

Let the Music Play

Secondly, there are those who love to listen to music during work. For employees who work in customer service, it helps to have music in the background because they are constantly on the phone. It doesn’t matter if the person is using VoIP technology or a traditional business phone service.

The fact of the matter is that it can be tough to try and hold a conversation when the person next to you is also on the phone. For this reason, many people need some sort of white noise to drown out the voices of others. However, plugging in one ear phone would be too overbearing; therefore making the phone conversation much more difficult.

Some people also work better with music playing. However, IT departments sometimes get nervous that individuals will stream music if headphones are allowed. This could push the company’s bandwidth limits to the top; therefore costing the company a lot of money. Headphones are also not allowed by some companies because they prevent employees from hearing the phone ring and/or reduce company synergy and teamwork. This makes work hard for those who love to listen to music.

  1. White Noise CD—If you are someone who really needs to drown out other people talking on the phone, consider suggesting a white noise CD. These CD’s are sold for this exact purpose, and they generally do not bother those who don’t like music. The sounds are different than music, so this could be a win-win situation for everyone.
  2. IPod—If your IT department is worried about streaming music, bring in your IPod and leave one ear out so you can hear phone calls and work together in groups. Even if “no headphones” is a company policy, your boss will likely understand. If you can prove you get more work done listening to music, your boss should have no issue.
  3. Be Discrete—Bosses, turn your head for this one: Some employees simply keep quiet about listening to music in the office. I have noticed from reading many blogs that this is actually a very popular solution amongst music-liking employees. If you have black headphones and you make sure you keep one ear out so that you can hear if you someone is talking to you, no one has to know. They even make wireless headphones if that would you feel more comfortable.

In the end, it is important to be respectful of both opinions and try to come up with some sort of compromise. However, if a compromise cannot be met, those who don’t want the music will always win. If this is the case, try to learn to get by without music. It may be difficult at first, but if you have a positive attitude you might find that you never needed the music in the first place.

What are your thoughts about office music? 


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Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for an online resource that gives inbound call center and telephone answering service advice to small businesses and entrepreneurs at Resource Nation.


  1. Andrew on the 30th November

    We have an open plan office and a 5.1 speaker setup. We have an open policy whereas if most of the staff agree we put some music on the speakers. However most of the time it is quiet with staff using headphones instead.

    We did have a situation where one member of staff would listen to his headphones but at a volume that meant everyone else could hear it too. Not good when he listened to thrash/punk rock.

  2. Abby Butts on the 30th November

    I have a radio in my office and its the second thing I turn on when I get to work in the morning (the first is the lights). The music helps drown out the office noise outside my office and helps me focus. I have worked at jobs without having music and it was miserable. My mind would wander and I had a much harder time focusing.

  3. Christopher Morris on the 30th November

    If you like white noise but don’t want to by a CD, you can use Simply Noise. Just Google it, it’s a site that has 3 different types of “color” noise and offers oscillation options as well (though the oscillation typically puts me to sleep!)

    • Camille on the 30th November

      Thanks for the helpful link, Christopher! I Googled it and Simply Noise does help. Cheers!

  4. Amanda DiSilvestro on the 30th November

    I think if you have an office then it’s a little bit different. I know that the head of our IT department listens to music in his office, but only he can hear it. I guess that’s just another perk to having your own secluded space!

    And listening to headphones so loud everyone can hear it is a huge problem. In some ways, I find this more distracting than if the music were playing throughout the office. Besides, that’s so bad for your eardrums!

  5. johnwin on the 1st December

    Nay. I just cannot do knowledge work with music on. If it has vocals all I do is focus on them and if it’s instrumental then it just distracts me more.

    When I’m doing anything manual – gardening, decorating, cleaning etc then yes music or podcasts are a must.

    I run an office of about 12 and none of us listen to anything whilst working. Other sections within the company do, via headphones.

  6. dojo on the 2nd December

    I’m a web designer and for some years I thought music is good for me. And then I worked for a while without it and noticed I’m more productive. While I love music, it’s not suitable for me, when I work. now I like it quiet.

    As far as the office is concerned (when and if I’ll have an office for my web design business), I’d choose no music. At least not in the main speakers. It’s easier for someone who loves music to work without it, than someone who needs quiet and cannot focus on the work because of the music.

  7. Matt Churchill on the 2nd December

    If you’re working in a creative environment it’s important to have a stimulus, in whatever form that may be – pictures and scrawlings on the wall, music or break out areas with games etc.

    In most offices it’s not viable to have huge break out areas or hang pictures on a wall so music becomes the natural default.

    It also depends on the culture of your company. If you are a new person who isn’t comfortable with having music played, it is your responsibility to let your manager know so that they, with long term experience of how the company works, can best broach the subject with those who do like music in the background.

    Also, turning the speakers off is a BAD idea – it can lead to resentment from those who enjoy listening to music in the background as it can be perceived as an unnecessary attempt to assert authority.

    Perhaps the solution is to group people not by the teams that they work in, but by how they work best – group those who like to work quietly in one area, and those who need stimulus by way of music in another.

  8. Spondooli on the 2nd December

    I think that it is better to have your own music playing through your headphones, but if you all agree to having a radio on I couldn’t see a problem with having one.

  9. Ben on the 19th December

    I used to work in an office where most of the developers (including me) took advantage of the “headphones permitted” policy. This worked well.

    I now work in a smaller office where we play music all day long. We all have the opportunity to play our own CDs or put on an iPod playlist, and the office CD collection mostly includes pop and dance compilations – so there’s quite a range. The Christmas music album hasn’t gone down quite so well, but we’re generally a very music-friendly group of people – it feels very quiet when the music stops.

    I listen to a lot of music at home, and I find it helps me concentrate on pretty much anything except watching TV or writing my own music!

  10. Anne on the 11th July

    We have music playing through speakers throughout the office. We don’t have the option of turning the speakers off. Office policy. The issue is that one department controls the station that we have to listen to and some of us find it extremely irritating. Not conducive to a good working environment! It’s breeding resentment. Over half of the office wears headphones, trying to drown out the irritating pop radio station!

  11. Steve on the 11th October

    Music playing in the office is absolutely horrible. It’s always the main cause of stress for me in offices that allow it.

    It’s fine for about a day. Then one man with a strong personality puts himself in charge of the music and plays what he wants all day every day, turning it up louder and louder. The selection gets worse every day, until you’re listening to 15 minute long tracks that just repeat the same 4 notes over and over again. He never takes any hint from the fact everyone else wears headphones to drown it out. He’s completely unapproachable so you can’t politely ask him to turn it off. If you try he asks what you want to listen to instead, and can’t understand that sometimes people want silence.

    The only sensible way is to ban music played through speakers but allow headphones.

  12. Melissa on the 16th December

    Music is fine but a personal choice. If you choose to listen to music then it should only be heard by YOU. Music is great but if someone else can hear it then it is not good. There are people in my office who walk around with their cell phones in their pocket with music on. Obviously, this person has not worked in a professional environment and do not know the obvious rules of working around other people. So a good rule of thumb – MUSIC SHOULD ONLY BE HEARD BY YOU AND NO ONE ELSE.

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