Creating Policies For Music In The Workplace

These days, music is always either with us or around us, downloaded onto our mobile devices and riding along with the cellular and Wi-Fi signals. Just walk through the halls of a school or around a college campus and you’ll see students everywhere wearing earbuds or over-the-ear headphones.

We listen to music in the car, in the shower, at the gym, washing dishes, pretty much everywhere. Back in the day, a somewhat larger and heavier portable cassette player might have been clipped to a belt. But with greater portability has come greater ubiquity, and an expectation that music is always available to provide a sound track to any activity, including our work.

If your desk-bound staff can stream music quietly at their computers, it’s probably a good idea to outline a music policy for your roaming custodial staff, too — there are benefits.

Restaurants have long known, and used, music’s effects to create mood and influence business operations. If you haven’t looked into this, there’s plenty of material online that explains how the tempo of music can cause patrons to chew faster and potentially turn over tables more often, while slower tempo music can cause patrons to linger and potentially order more food and drinks.

If music can help increase your staff’s productivity and efficiency, it’s certainly worth addressing. But, keep in mind that the motivational benefits of whistling-while-you-work can be quickly negated if staff are completely tuned out and unable to hear questions or requests from building occupants, or if the music is so loud it disturbs nearby occupants (not to mention possible hearing damage).

Your music-while-working policy doesn’t have to be too complicated, but you should consider some basics.

• Are fully enclosed headphones allowed or just smaller earbuds? Larger options may give the impression of being more “tuned out” and look less professional.

• Are there times or locations where no music is permitted? In other words, are there places you want your staff to have their full attention devoted to cleaning tasks?

• Debate the need of one ear versus two ears listening. When my kids are riding bikes or skateboards, the rule is they have to leave one earbud out so they can hear cars or important parental instructions. You may want to stipulate a similar one-ear policy. You can argue that if it’s good enough for the U.S. Secret Service, it’s good enough for your organization.

• Do you want to provide earbuds to the staff? Providing a particular model of earbuds could be viewed as an employee perk and help ensure a uniform look among staff.

Considering appropriate music use on the job is just another part of the modern workplace. Handling it well might even mean you see a boost in productivity and a shout out when one of your staff heads off to a reality TV singing competition. 

MARK PETRUZZI is Green Seal’s former Senior Vice President of Outreach and Strategic Relations. He’s in his third decade of striving for more sustainable purchasing and operations by using his engineering powers for good. He can be reached at