How Music Can Positively Impact Employee Performance


May 25, 2010

I read an interesting article about music, “Music as medicine: Docs use tunes as treatment“, and I started thinking about how music affects our performance at work.  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 recovery 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?

*reworked from the dusty archive…


  • We have a pretty decent Muzak track at our corporate office. I hear it about half the time, mostly on songs I love, hate, or haven’t heard in a long time

  • Motivation (for me) equates to three words: Rock and Roll.

    Now, that doesn’t always translate the same for everyone in our firm, but, we do share a variety of tastes and have quite the eclectic mix flowing when there’s not heavy telephone time (we’re all in open space in our main office).

  • I love to have the iPod playing at work, it keeps my mind sufficiently occupied so the rest of me can work on other stuff; great for those mundane, every day tasks. I do find that I work better with something playing in the background. That said, our office has a strict no music policy; I didn’t write it, obviously 🙂 Since we’ve put a stop to all headphones our collection numbers have risen, quality has improved, and clients are thus happier; employees on the other hand hate it. It’s been an interesting experiment.

  • I think this is absolutely true. Similiar to working out or having music play lightly in the background. I use music within sessions to get things started, between sessions, during group work (low volume). It helps us think creatively, get ramped up in the right situations and calm our nerves during a particully daunting task.
    I use it and so should you!!
    I approved this message lol

  • Music really effects your mood and mood effects everything. Im currently reading a great book on moods and mood mapping by Dr Liz Miller. She discusses how music can change your mood. I’m sure playing ‘Walking On Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves would have a positive effect on nearly everyone’s performance

  • Music is such a DRUG, I cannot imagine surviving in a workplace without it. Even as I type, I’m cranking “Gimme Shelter” out of sheer celebration. Those back-up singers! Damn.

    Music has the ability to transport us outside ourselves. It can be sacred, profane — sometimes both. It just FEELS good, you know? This immense love of music led me to name my firm Maestro Consulting Group. Music is such a rich metaphor for work and leadership.

    I believe with all my heart that music directly improves workplace performance. Playing music allows us to bring an irreplaceable part of ourselves to work. And isn’t that what managers want from their associates — employee engagement?

  • For me, it’s a no-brainer. Music is definitely has a positive effect in my role as Creative Director. It sort of takes the lid off of the box by which you feel contained whne it’s too quiet and uninspiring.

    A headset and, and you’re good to go!

  • i listen to music during 80% of my work day and it really keeps me motivated, engaged and energetic. i generally pick a genre or an artist, plug it into and let it do the rest! today i plugged in Dave Matthews Band, Corrine Bailey Rae and kings of leon

  • Trish, I always have music on in the background in my office. It has always (at least since high school, yes they had recording devices back then) helped me to concentrate, silence drives me crazy. I make sure it does not interfere with any communication, either phone or person-to-person. Not sure I could work without it.

  • Trish, new to your site, happy to find you.
    There is no question that music not only affects emotiona and mood – it can drive it, especially if there is resonance with certain memories (tho that can go the other way too!)
    As a seminar leader I use music much of the time to set a tone for introspection, relaxation, group interaction, boosting post-lunch lows, etc. And generally people love the inclusion of music.
    Great post!

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About Trish

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


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