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Heaphones In The Office




Headphones were once reserved for military personnel and telephone operators, but even as they made their way into our daily lives they still found a place in the modern workplace. Today more than half of people use headphones to boost their productivity at work, but are they helping? Headphones are seen as a way to minimize distractions and signal that you aren’t available to talk, but does research back it up?


Because modern offices have done away with both walls and cubicles in many cases, distractions are a constant problem for many workers. It is estimated that workers are distracted every 3-12 minutes in the modern office, and those interruptions cost an estimated $588 billion a year in the United States alone. They also cause increased stress and mistakes – a 2.8-second distraction can cause twice the number of errors, while a 4.4-second distraction can cause three times the number of errors. These interruptions and errors lead to slight increases in exhaustion, physical complaints, and anxiety.

Because of this, many workers have made headphones part of their daily ensemble. A whopping 78% of people believe that music increases productivity at work, while just 4% think it is a distraction. What’s more, four in five employers in the information services, data processing, food service, technology, hospitality, retail, and healthcare industries also believe music increases productivity. But 46% of people also say they use headphones to avoid conversation in the workplace, while 30% say they wear headphones to cancel out background noise. 

There are a lot of different reasons to wear headphones in the workplace:

  • Stress reduction
  • Making the day go faster
  • Signaling you don’t have time for conversation
  • Blocking out distractions

The type of music you listen to may also have an effect on your work. Music with lyrics, high intensity, or those that evoke emotions in the listener, such as a favorite song, may be more of a distraction than a help. Alternatively, soft music without lyrics, such as Classical or Baroque music, has been shown to improve reading comprehension and may provide the perfect diversion from the listener’s surroundings.

Dividing our attention for too long can actually be tiresome. Anything that requires our attention, even if enjoyable, uses mental energy. Dividing our attention between music and work can use additional mental energy and make us exhausted in the long run, so be careful about music choices in the workplace. Studies about whether music actually helps or hurts job performance are divided, but it does appear as though non-invasive background music may be a good thing for most people in the workplace.

Headphones have created privacy in public spaces where privacy is becoming more limited than ever, and music may help prevent distractions that lead to mistakes and stress. Learn more about the history of headphones and how they are used in the modern office below. You might be surprised by just how much more — or less — you will get done when you put on a pair of headphones and click play.

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.