music at work can increase productivity

When asked the question, does music increase productivity?, my immediate response is to shout yes, yes, yes from the rooftops…I might even be seen shaking a tambourine for emphasis, haha.  

As a lifelong musician, hit songwriter and veteran of bringing music to the corporate world, the idea that music increases productivity is pretty well proven for me personally. 

But perhaps you’re a leader of a biotech company or the head of HR at a law firm. Maybe you’re a financial analyst or an insurance underwriter. The idea that music may have real value in your work environment might seem a bit strange to you.

So I realize that you may need some science and cold hard facts to be convinced that music does increase productivity. Anecdotal evidence aside, how can we assess whether the presence of music has tangible benefits?

For the purposes of this article, let’s define productive employees as happy, emotionally healthy humans creating work product at the peak of their cognitive function. 

Can music help your workforce become more productive employees? The best way to get confident about the relationship between music and productivity in the workplace is to examine the nuts and bolts of the relationship between music and the brain. 

The Brain on Music

Music and the brain have a very special and symbiotic relationship. Both listening to music and creating music affects the brain positively. Studies have shown that the brain releases significantly more Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward, when subjects listened to music.

Music has been conclusively linked to increased emotional wellbeing, decreased depression and anxiety. This improves neuro-cognitive functioning; elevating performance in both workers and athletes.

In addition to the effects of listening to music, the effects of creating and performing music have also been researched. The brains of musicians have been shown to exhibit a more effective corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves that transfer messages from one side of the brain to the other). 

So you could argue that musicians can float between left brain (analytical) and right brain (creative) thinking more easily than others. The ability to harness both the left side and right side of your brain effectively has obvious benefits in the corporate world. 

But what if you’re not a musician? Can you harness the power of music to increase productivity for your workforce?

The good news is, having any sort of regular interaction with music was found to increase neurogenesis, (the regeneration and repair of cerebral nerves), to such an astonishing level that it is actually recognized as an effective therapy to slow the progress of Alzheimers and other neuro-degenerative diseases. 

More brain cells, better moods, and a constant feeling of reward…seems like a recipe for productivity to me! Let’s crank up the tunes and find out. 

Music, Performance & Productivity

Studies have shown that listening to music has been linked to higher performance levels. A 2010 study by sports psychologist C.I. Karageorghis showed that the dopamine boosting effects of music improves performance in two ways; delay of fatigue and increase in work capacity. 

Karageorghis found that study participants were able to exercise longer and harder with less fatigue when they listened to music. He also concluded that music boosted confidence in participants, and tapped into the brain’s secretion of dopamine and naturally occurring opioids that reduce pain and increase positive emotions.

After 35 years of studying the relationship between the brain and human performance, Karageorghis said, “When the brain is listening to music, it lights up like a Christmas tree. It’s an ideal stimuli because it reaches parts of the brain that can’t easily be reached”. 

Music and Mood

In addition to affecting performance, exposure to music can play a key role in improving mood. Music has been shown to effectively combat the fight or flight response caused by stress and to alleviate depression.

Listening to music has been shown in numerous studies to improve mood across the board. One meta-analysis of over 400 studies in the journal, “Trends in Cognitive Sciences”, found conclusively that listening to music before surgery reduced cortisol and anxiety levels significantly more than taking large doses of prescription anxiety medication.

In a busy corporate environment, stress and fatigue can be a major damper on employee productivity, not to mention the myriad negative health effects of stress on the body. The dopamine response associated with music stops the toxic epinephrine/cortisol stress spiral in its tracks, and helps the body to regulate back to a peaceful homeostasis.

And reduction in flight or fight reactions, can help communication and inter-personal relationships at work. This can have real benefits for employee satisfaction, engagement and tenure. 

Turn Up The Tunes

If you’re still reading, I’m guessing you’re convinced by now. We can definitely answer yes to the question, “Does music increase productivity?”

So what are the best ways to incorporate music into your corporate culture?

Before you start blasting Beyoncé in your office, take note that you need the proper set of circumstances to effectively use music as a productivity booster. 

Listening To Music For Productivity

Here’s some help so you can get it right. 

Studies have shown specific regions in the brain that improve concentration and create positive emotional response are more active when we listen to familiar music. Unfamiliar music can distract people from the task at hand and make you less productive. This suggests you might want to allow people to listen to their favorite music while at work, allowing individual choice.

Additionally, studies on background music in the workplace showed that music with lyrics reduced overall performance at work, while instrumental music boosted productivity levels. 

Stepping away from a task for a short music break also proved effective in boosting overall productivity, as did listening to music during the completion of a repetitive, non language based task.

Making Music Productive – Key Takeaways

  • One Size Does Not Fit All – Forcing employees to listen to unfamiliar music, especially unfamiliar lyric based music, will be detrimental to productivity. Emotional response to music is highly individual, and you won’t get that coveted dopamine response by forcing your entire office to listen to the same radio station on a loud speaker.
  • Headphones Are Your Friend – While you don’t want your employees to become anti-social, allowing headphone listening for certain hours or periods of the day will allow each employee to experience their own individual mood & productivity boosting playlist. If you’re uncomfortable with blanket use of headphones at the desk, start with the concept of “music breaks”, encouraging employees to step away for 5 to10 minutes and listen to their favorite tunes.
  • Educate Your Workforce – Give your employees the information they need to be successful when applying music into their workflow. Encourage them to experiment with different approaches. Maybe one employee’s productivity levels respond more to “music breaks” than to long periods of continuous music listening. Remind your employees that if the music has lyrics, it should be familiar and have a positive association. If they find lyrics distracting, they should err on the side of instrumental music.

Getting Musical Yourself

Creating, performing, and interacting with music has been shown to have an even more profound effect on the brain than just listening, as evidenced by studies surveying the high functioning brains of musicians (at least until we lose our car keys).

There are a few good companies, including my own, that bring interactive musical experience to teams and groups. Songwriting programs and drumming programs provide the well established neurological benefits of creating and listening to music, all while building morale and team spirit. Take a moment and check out the music team programs that can jump start your integration of music as a productivity tool. 

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”. Most of the notable scientists, philosophers, and world leaders across human history espouse similarly awestruck viewpoints on music as an all encompassing, vital human experience.

The power of music to increase productivity, and quality of life, is well documented and supported by scientific research. The way that you harness (or fail to harness) that incredible power is ultimately up to you. 

If you’re not incorporating music into your workplace in some manner, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for your corporate culture and for the well being of your employees.

Learn more about the value of music here – 

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.