30 March 2008

Plugged in and Tuned Out: Listening to Music While you Work

I am noticing more and more people plugged into their MP3 players on the bus, walking down the street and even at work. I have written previously on how much information assistants can glean from keeping themselves tuned in to what is going on around them that I have to wonder, can administrative assistants work effectively while plugged in to their MP3 players?

Working Better With Music
According to a 2006 Spherion® Workplace Snapshot survey conducted by Harris Interactive®, "almost one-third (32 percent) of workers listen to music while working using an iPod, MP3 player or similar personal music device. Of those, 79 percent feel that doing so improves their job satisfaction and/or productivity."

The University of Windsor did a study on The Effect of Music Listening on Work Performance. Overall, music is seen as beneficial to productivity.

In the Background
People have a variety of tastes in music and that has always been the problem for me with music piped into the office or played on a radio nearby. While some may like opera, others want hard rock. When I was attending hairdressing school, music was piped in and I found it very distracting. It was tuned to a rock station and by the end of each day I would go home with a splitting headache. Music is very personal and people tolerate it and function better when listening to the kind they like.

Articles have been written in medical journals that show surgeons who listen to music perform better. It has also been shown to be beneficial to the patient to have soothing music playing while they are being operated on.

It seems that the criteria as to whether music is played in the operating room is how much interaction is required for the operation and how much listening is needed. If it is a long operation requiring concentration for the doctor the music can be helpful to keep them focussed and relieve boredom. The consensus seems to be if the music is distracting or if an emergency arises, it is turned off.

Turning Inward
With an MP3 player it is not music in the background, but it is music in your head. You are tuned out to your neighbours to the point of being anti social. Working as a team requires listening and communicating. We cannot work as a team if we are not listening to and talking to our neighbours.

Turn the volume down
I sat beside someone on the bus the other day and the music on their MP3 player was so loud I could hear it coming from their ear buds. Perhaps to the person who was plugged in it sounded good, but for me as a second-hand listener it was a high-pitched screech. I was trying to read a book and had a hard time concentrating.

People have different preferences for the volume of their music. Some like it low and soothing, while others like it loud and vibrating. I live at a busy cross street and sometimes I can hear a car stereo blaring up to my third-floor apartment. The whole car seems to be shaking with the music. I can only imagine how loud it must be for those in the vehicle. A friend of mine told me when his son was a teen he could hear him arriving before he even saw him by the sound of his car stereo. His son now suffers from hearing loss.

Some people have plugged in to help drown out the distracting noises from neighbouring cubicles, which can be helpful as long as your music isn’t in turn disturbing your neighbours. I think it all depends on what kind of work you do and how much attention you need to pay to the others on your team.

As a writer, at times I can produce so much better when I am plugged in at home to some inspiring music. Time seems to fly as I type and listen, and depending on your job that may also apply at work.

A Time and Place
I have worked overtime on occasion and found it very relaxing and enjoyable to have my MP3 player on with songs that keep me focussed on a task that may be boring, like filing for instance. With my music playing it has made even this task more enjoyable.

On the downside, I have also been startled by co-workers seemingly sneaking up on me as I wasn’t aware they were there because I was plugged in. With security being an issue in so many workplaces, being aware of our surroundings is very important. Keeping our ears open can alert us to possible dangers when we are working alone late at night.

My Opinion...

I have found as an assistant that I need to be alert as to what is going on around me if I want to be effective as the go-to person. An assistant needs to be available to communicate with co-workers at all times.

An assistant also needs to be tuned in and aware of what their boss is doing. Their job is to assist and in order to do that we need to listen.

Some assistants work in a secretarial pool environment and take a task to their desk to work on it and in those cases being plugged in may be helpful. On the whole, if you are an assistant to one or more bosses, you need to stay focussed and available to assist them, serve clients, answer phones, transcribe tapes and do everything else that is required of us every day. I don’t see how we can accomplish that while plugged in.


Anonymous said...

I personally try not to listen to music, since I have to handle a team of 30 people, including 6 managers. I do, however, see some people listening to music while at work, but only are using one ear piece, since people walk up to them and ask questions or if they need to be able to hear their phone ring.


Richard Rinyai

Patricia Robb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricia Robb said...

I agree. I would probably get tangled up in my dictation headphones, MP3 player ear buds and the telephone :)

As I put in my article it may work for an assistant who is perhaps replacing other assistants and can bring work back to their desk. It may be helpful to motivate them, but it certainly wouldn't work in my working situation.

Anonymous said...

I don't like working without music playing in the background. I kept the radio low & on a station I liked.
When I did filing I used a headset, but only on one ear so I could still hear & answer the phone.
I tried using an mp3 player with earbuds at my desk and found it too annoying because I couldn't keep track of things going on around me.
Louise D.