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?

  • 20
    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, 2014 at 11:41
  • @AakashM Is this not workplace.stackexchange.com? How different is it from asking any other questions relating to professionalism in the workplace? I'd like to know.
    – Theman
    Aug 29, 2014 at 14:10
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    – Dibstar
    Aug 29, 2014 at 15:08
  • 6
    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, 2014 at 15:15
  • 1
    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, 2014 at 19:00

5 Answers 5


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.
    – Shikoba
    Aug 29, 2014 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, 2014 at 15:29
  • I agree. I work in IT, and although I've never done this personally, half of the people I work with (including my supervisor) keep headphones in their ears all the time. But as soon as you step up to them to ask them something, they all seem to notice you right off the bat, so it's not like they're distracted. As a matter of fact, it's been demonstrated that at least muzak (elevator music) has a tendancy to make people work faster. Aug 29, 2014 at 16:34
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    How does "need to concentrate on what they write in emails" jive with "shouldn't wear headphones"? If anything, if they need to concentrate on what they write, they should do whatever they can do reduce distractions. Chances are, some music that drowns out sales calls, other typers and office chatter will provide a concentration boost.
    – corsiKa
    Aug 29, 2014 at 17:48
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    Customer service staff have to concentrate so hard that they can't listen to background music, but IT staff don't? What kind of work is your IT staff doing that it requires less concentration than writing an email? In many modern "open office" floor plans, the only way to concentrate on work is to block out the office noise with headphones and music. Even with a noise masking system in the office, I can hear conversations 40 feet away.
    – Johnny
    Dec 17, 2015 at 16:17

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.

  • You had me until the last sentence. I would much, much rather be asked than have to deal with a problem after it happens.
    – Roger
    Aug 29, 2014 at 16:50

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.


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!


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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