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Even with headphones on with the volume on low, would this still be considered rude or unprofessional? I'd like to listen to music to help me get through my work but don't want to get told off for it.

My office can be fairly noisy but on other occasions it's quiet. Should I only be using my headphones for work-related things such as taking a business call?

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Let's imagine the future. Suppose you get a load of answers saying "Yes, it's entirely professional to wear headphones." You go ahead and wear headphones. Your supervisor tells you to stop. What are you going to do, say "But a load of people from the internet said it was OK!!?!?" ? No. Ask your supervisor. –  AakashM Aug 29 at 11:41
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He didn't ask if it's against his employer's policy, he asked if it's considered rude or unprofessional. The implication being "generally speaking..." etc. –  coburne Aug 29 at 15:15
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This question is being discussed on Meta Workplace SE, the site for discussing site policies and, in general, how Workplace SE functions. –  jmort253 Aug 30 at 19:00

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

It depends on your position.

In my case, I tend to listen to music or even the radio, because I'm in IT, but people in customer service or other partners can't, as they need to be really concentrated on what they write in emails or what they say.

In our case, it's fine to listen to music, I personally use Grooveshark, and others use Spotify, but anyway it's rude if you listen to music so loud you cannot hear if someone asks you for help.

My trick is to leave one ear out of the headphones, so I can hear if people talk to me.

However, if it's really noisy, put on your headphones and only listen to music without lyrics, a little low. That way, you can concentrate on your work (because there's music in the foreground and the background sound is not heard anymore), yet any voice around you will be pretty easy for you to notice.

My golden trick:

Ask around if anybody listens to music. If nobody does, check if they listened to music before, and this was banned.

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Grooveshark and Spotify will add the issue of bandwidth. –  borjab Aug 29 at 13:36
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@borjab it depends on what device you are using to do the listening. Also, many workplace "Acceptable Use Policies" would allow this, so long as the usage does not impact the performance of business systems. –  Craine Aug 29 at 15:29

Even with headphones on with the volume on low, would this still be considered rude or unprofessional?

As always, it depends.

There are many contexts in which it might not be appropriate to wear headphones at work:

  • Your company or boss prohibits them
  • You work in a service position, where customers need to talk with you
  • You must answer the telephone frequently
  • You must answer frequent questions from others in your office
  • An environment where wearing headphones would be a safety concern
  • etc, etc

You best bet is to specifically ask your boss "Is it okay if I wear headphones?" Then you will know for sure.

If that isn't feasible, you could look around and see if your coworkers are wearing them, or just ask others in your office if this is acceptable.

Absent that, one approach would be to wear them and see if anyone complains.

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There is a general principle at work here. You want to have a constructive, open, relationship with your supervisor. Your supervisor should be your first port of call in navigating your employer's culture. If you are unsure if headphones are culturally acceptable, ask! And the same goes for sandals, pictures of your cat on your desk, and anything else. If your supervisor is a troll of some kind, you have a more complex problem than headphones.

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The key criterion to use in deciding whether it's OK to play the music is the impact on your work and the work of others:

If nobody but you can hear the music you're playing, why should they care as long as the work gets done?

Playing the muzak is unprofessional if it gets in the way of your own work or the work of others.

If no one is complaining, then your playing of your music is not getting in the way of anyone's work. Once, I did try to get away with playing the music so loud that I couldn't hear anyone complain. The long and short of it, mostly short, is that I didn't get away with it :)

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Ok, here's the real deal. It all depends on the degree to which you need to communicate with others.

If you work a help-desk and are answering phones all day, no, listening to music at your desk is a bad idea.

If you are a "heads-down" developer, listening to music may actually make you a better developer coming up with more creative solutions. Here, your interactions with other people are limited.

Now, if you have a boss that demands you never listen to music (probably because he/she grew up in a town where they banned dancing a-la Footloose), then don't listen to music.

  • Don't listen to music in your office without headphones.

  • Don't listen to music at high volumes, even if you are wearing headphones.

  • Don't walk-around the office with your headphones in jamming-out, people will think you look like a douche.

Finally, if someone comes up to you to interact socially or professionally, follow these steps to be cool:

  1. Turn off the music,
  2. Take off your headphones,
  3. Listen actively.

Once you do all this, you'll get IRL XP, and Level-up!

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