How Music Affects Employee Performance


June 2, 2009

I read an extremely interesting article today and I started thinking about how music affects our performance at work.  The article was “Music as medicine: Docs use tunes as treatment“.  The article tells about research that hospitals are compiling on how music affects patient recovery from surgery.  Certain types of music are found to speed recovert time for patients.

According to the article, “Sound waves travel through the air into the ears and buzz the eardrums and bones in the middle ears. To decode the vibration, your brain transforms that mechanical energy into electrical energy, sending the signal to its cerebral cortex — a hub for thought, perception and memory. Within that control tower, the auditory cortex forwards the message on to brain centers that direct emotion, arousal, anxiety, pleasure and creativity. And there’s another stop upstairs: that electrical cue hits the hypothalamus which controls heart rate and respiration, plus your stomach and skin nerves, explaining why a melody may give you butterflies or goose bumps. Of course, all this communication happens far faster than a single drum beat.”

I’m wondering how this can apply to our lives at work.  There are work environments that incorporate music and some that don’t.  Some have harsh, loud music (often found in retail stores like Hollister and Abercrombie) and others play soft Muzak (doctor’s offices, dentists, etc.)  Office work environments may allow employees to play music softly at their desk or in their office.  How does this affect our daily performance?

The fact that certain types of music can stimulate areas of our brain that affect perception and memory is fascinating.  There are so many companies that struggle with ways to improve employee performance, yet not once in my career have I ever thought about how incorporating music into the work environment may positively impact employee performance. 

Think of the possibilities.  If you have a design company where creativity is valued, playing music to stimulate that attribute could be very beneficial.  Perhaps in a professional services firm you would want to play music to relieve anxiety and send positive messages that improve memory and attention to detail.  The opportunity seems endless.

How many of you play music at work?  What kind and how do you think it affects your performance?


  • We have a company DJ. People get to make requests and override decisions using an app on their iPhones. It’s really a blast. We always have music going here…it’s stimulating. We’re fortunate that we have a bunch of creatives who value music. I can’t imagine an office without it.

  • Very interesting post and I wonder why more organizations have not considered this in their performance improvement plans. Personally, I tend to mix it up quite a bit when I am working, Alternative, Classic, Bruce, etc., but am not sure what works for me would work well for others. Great post and I love the look of your blog, very different and distinctive.

    • @frank I would love to work in an office like yours. Ours is very quiet. A company DJ sounds like a great perk!
      @steve I’m like you- diverse musical taste. I can go from 80’s to jazz to Korn. Quite a mix.
      @HR Puff I like the way you have specific music for different types of tasks. That makes quite a bit of sense.

  • I love music at work. I just finished some work that was less than interesting, but my sweet melange of The Darkness, Metallica, Blue Oyster Cult, and Rob Zombie got me through. Now on to reports, for that it’ll be a little Warren Zevon.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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