LONDON — The next time you’re struggling to finish up a task at work, throwing on some Bach or Beethoven may be a worth a try. That’s the main conclusion of an experiment on British workers that found listening to classical music at work can improve productivity by 15%.
An initial survey of 2,000 U.K. employees revealed that half regularly listen to music on the job. Some of those employees’ bosses reportedly encourage the practice, but others are strictly against it, believing it hurts work performance. So, British classical music station Scala Radio and psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman set out to determine if background music hurts or hinders workplace efficiency.
Four office workers were asked to transcribe two 600-word sets of song lyrics. The first set was transcribed with no music playing, while the other was completed with classical music playing in the background.
The first task, completed in silence, was completed in an average time of 20 minutes and 59 seconds. However, the second transcription exercise that involved music was completed in an average time of 17 minutes and 42 seconds; a difference of three minutes and 17 seconds, or 15%.
“Music has a very powerful impact on the brain. It affects mood, mental performance and physical performance,” says Dr. Spelman in a media release. “Many people find that listening to certain types of instrumental music can help them with their productivity levels. The music can function as a sort of ‘white noise’, cancelling out potentially distracting ambient noise.”
Scala Radio’s initial research had found that many British workers put headphones on first thing when they sit down at their desks to help them concentrate or block out distractions. A third of those respondents said they work harder while listening to music, and 40% think they get more work done.
Many respondents said they listen to music simply to avoid silence (10%), and more than two-thirds of respondents who work from home said they would struggle to concentrate without music playing in the background.
In all, 47% of those polled on their work listening habits said they feel less stressed with background music playing, while over a third said their productivity improves.
“Provided the music has a calm, regular beat, it can actually help us to stay calm, reducing our stress, slowing our heartrate, and moderating our pulse,” says Dr. Spelman. “This makes it easier for us to focus on the task at hand rather than entering into ‘flight or fight’ mode, in which it can be very difficult to think clearly because of our elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol.”