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Should I let my staff wear headphones at work?

Advice by Peninsula Group Operations Director and HR expert Alan Price

The rise of millennials in the workplace has had a significant impact on office practices, with one of the most noticeable changes being the increase in the number of employees wearing headphones or earbuds throughout their working day.

So are headphones making workers more productive or are they making workers disengaged with a business’s culture and preventing them from engaging and collaborating with colleagues? A recent study by Accountemps has found the former and that 85% of workers polled like listening to music in an office environment, with 71% of professionals revealing that they feel they are more productive with music playing.

Some managers may feel reluctant to have team members plugged into their headphones during the day, however, there are a number of studies which show listening to music can have a positive effect. Spotify, the music streaming service, report that 61% of individuals feel more productive and happier when they can listen to music at work.

More productive employees will positively impact the bottom line without any additional company expenditure as staff can access music and podcasts on personal phones or other devices. There are also certain playlists on services which are geared towards offices or professional workspaces, helping employees stay focused on the job in hand rather than providing an audio distraction.

However, managers who want to increase productivity do need to be aware of the dark side of this practice, with Cloud Cover Music reporting that 46% of people use headphones to dodge communicating with their colleagues. This can have a significant impact on team morale and important areas such as creativity or initiative thinking. When staff listen to loud music, they can’t hear what is going on around them and this may also lead to a drop off in collaboration.

A potential way around this, whilst keeping the benefits of music listening, may be to have music playing openly in teams where all staff members are happy for this to take place. Some, however, may see this as an unnecessary distraction.

With headphones becoming more commonplace, employers should consider introducing a ‘headphone wearing’ policy. Whilst this will not be necessary in all workplaces, it is a good idea to have some rules in place and communicate these clearly to all staff members. Rules may cover whether employees can wear one or two headphones, appropriate volume levels and a reminder not to sing along or distract colleagues.

To avoid a loss of collaboration or team communication, headphone wearing could be restricted to certain parts of the working day, in certain parts of the office or when completing specific tasks. This ensures employees are not spending every hour of the working day isolated from their colleagues and plugged into their music.

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