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Friday lay day – music while you work

Its my Friday lay day blog – a short blog today about music at work. Building on yesterday’s blog – Self-imposed corporate regulations control workers but choke productivity – which told the story of an increasing imposition of productivity choking workplace rules and procedures that capitalists use to control their workers. A classic manifestation of these workplace changes has been the increased use of open-plan offices (abandoning private offices) and so-called hot desking. This is a very alienating environment for workers and research has shown that if workers have access to music while they work that they choose, they get through the day in better shape. Cue the turntable! Pablo Moses on. Start typing.

The most thorough research on this topic has been carried out by Dr Anneli B. Haake from the University of Sheffield school of music as part of her doctoral research studies.

Her main article on the topic (derived from her PhD) – Individual music listening in workplace settings: an exploratory survey of offices in the UK – was published in the Musicae Scientiae journal in 2011.

Early research work in this area focused heavily on so-called ‘functional music’, which was “(popular) music created for workers”, aka canned music, which functions as “wallpaper”.

But the top ten most frequently reported artists in Dr Haake’s study are certainly not canned. None of them are on my list. The number 1 was Arctic Monkeys and number 10 Red Hot Chili Peppers.

BBC Radio 1 was the most listened to radio station.

The main findings of her research are that while the capacity to listen to music helped workers “manage other distractions in the office environment” and helped them relax, the benefits were forthcoming only when the worker exercised discretion over the situation.

The benefits were not forthcoming when the music was imposed on them. The research found that:

… some commercial music suppliers target employees to provide classical music for stress relief in offices … Listening to classical music was not necessarily related to greater levels of relaxation. Instead, experiences of control have emerged in the data as a powerful and important aspect of music listening as relaxation, as self-selected music provided employees with a sense of control over their surroundings and emotions.

So if the bosses think they can impose some insipid canned classical music on their workers to relax them as they restructure their workplaces, increase surveillance and reporting and otherwise attempt to demean their working conditions, think again. Workers are smart enough to see that imposition as just another control strategy.

If you really want workers to be happy – let them rock at their own pace.

The topic was covered in today’s Fairfax press – Is music important at work?

I would not easily survive in an open-plan office environment. I tend to have records or CDs playing or the radio on while I work. I find it sets up a nice atmosphere and helps me concentrate. When there is sport on (football mainly) I also like to have a TV going if I can with the sound down and the commentary coming off the radio. This mix is not for some but works for me.

So – this is what I have been listening to today

It is from Jamaican artist – Pablo Moses – and was first published on his 1975 album – Revolutionary Dream – which still happily spins on my turntable where I am working today. One of my favourite records in fact.

The song – I Man a Grasshopper – was recorded in Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s famous Black Ark Studio and engineered by Geoffrey Chung. The exceptional guitar playing is from the Michael Murray, who played in one version of the Trenchtown Showband the In Crowd. The In Crowd, by the way, made one big record – We Play Reggae – which according to my taste was largely forgettable.

In this 2010 interview, Pablo Moses explains the origins of the song.

It kept me typing today anyway!

Saturday Quiz

The Saturday Quiz will be back again tomorrow. It will be of an appropriate order of difficulty (-:

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2014 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    This Post Has 4 Comments
    1. Isn’t that what headphones are for? Everyone can listen to their own music without disturbing others. Just make sure everyone gets a pair that are comfortable to wear.
      I find music with a faster tempo to be better suited for work than one which is “relaxing”.

    2. Music in the workplace or the study is a very personal choice. I have always been a person who prefers to work and study without music. I believe that I concentrate better and am more productive without music. When I listen to music I like to concentrate on it and give it my full attention. I lie down on the cool wooden floor (coolest place in a Brisbane house in summer) with headphones on and listen to anything from Classical to rock or blues. I mean I listen to recordings not to the radio.

      In one or two work situations (clerical work), I was forced to work with co-workers who had a radio on. I initially found it annoying and distracting but I also found I adapted quite quickly to ignore it except for the occasional song which I actually liked. Now, people can work with headphones on when doing say computer work where they do not need to talk to bosses or co-workers for most of the day. That is fine too but again I never bothered with such music for myself.

      Sensible bosses don’t care how workers get their work done provided they do get it done, do it accurately enough and don’t disrupt other workers. Within those parameters, sensible bosses allow any reasonabke amount of leeway in personal approach to the work and personalisation of work space. I for example was always unintersted in personalising my workspace except for ergonomic issues and easy access to processing tools, work and reference sources along with knowing where everything is. For these latter reasons, I would have hated hot-desking but I never had to deal with it.

      Sometimes there are team coordination and processing requirements to be met of course but micro-managing and over-controlling bosses harm productivity. Often these types are tin gods whose main goals seem to be their own power, prestige and comfort.

    3. My workplace seems to think playing about 15 [licensed] songs on repeat all day, every single day is acceptable. I personally LOVE music, it’s a cherished institution for me that should not be force-fed into anyone’s ears. I even enjoy hearing music while working, depending on the music selection and especially if I can’t predict the playlist. This automatically rules out many radio stations due to their repetitive habits, but due to licensing issues, radio stations are out of the question. Instead, 15 songs are drilling into me every day, causing serious frustrations and also I’m starting to feel the effects of brain damage. The other night I came home while unknowingly singing “Don’t ya think your boyfriend was hot like me”… thing is, I’m a man and this behavior is quite abnormal seeing I avoid commercial music like it was the Ebola. I fear it’s only a matter of time before I lose my mind altogether. Repetitive playlists are indeed a [successful] form of torture and the effects are starting to show after only a few weeks of working at this company. Why can’t everyone play their own music via headphones? I’ll even buy headphones for the entire company floor in order to get through this diplomatically. Something tells me many people will hate me for even bringing up this issue, but I fear I won’t have much time left on this planet if this madness continues. Music is SACRED and should not be abused, especially at a workplace.

    4. Personally i feel happy and also gets relaxed with the Music.From the starting of the day to the end of the day music entertains and i also get enjoyed a lot..Every individual have their own choice of the music.So selection of the song depends on the person..If everyone can have their own headphones than all can hear and enjoy the music on their own…!!!!!

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