I am working at a software development company. At my workplace above my desk, there is speaker in the ceiling. After every 2 desks there is a speaker.

As from my desk, almost every second face is listening to music using headphones.

There is so many cons of listening to music using headphone:

  • Sometimes employees waste his/her time in music selection
  • Sometimes employee workstation PCs have no right to access music sites
  • Headphones can damage your hearing
  • Music downloads can be a reason for slow internet (mainly for India)

So at the end I would like to ask the question:

Should software development companies play music in development rooms, so that employees don’t need to listen to music on headphones?

*(Of course soft music at low volume.)

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    I doubt that there is any kind of music everybody can agree on. There will always be some people who hate the music played. In a creative environment no music must be played. – user36910 Jun 18 '15 at 6:58
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    There is no way to find music everyone likes. Heck, even I do not like the music I listened to yesterday. Or the one I will listen to tomorrow. That's called taste. Assuming one could find music that everyone likes every day is like assuming you can feed your people the same food every day and they will like it. Hint: they won't. – nvoigt Jun 18 '15 at 7:01
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    Also, depending on location there may be legal implications of playing music to everyone - in that it creates a liability for royalties or requires a licence. If people are playing (legal) downloads or listening to Spotify over headphones, they have already paid. – Julia Hayward Jun 18 '15 at 8:01
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    “Sometimes employees waste his/her time in music selection” Employees can “waste” their time in lots of ways. It’s also nice to break your concentration every once in a while. – Paul D. Waite Jun 18 '15 at 10:08
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    I put pink noise through my headphones, not necessarily music. If my workplace played music over speakers, I would still have my headphones on. – ColleenV parted ways Jun 18 '15 at 10:38

No. I listen to music at work for a number of reasons:

  • My music hides the noise of the radio played by the support staff (which I hate with a passion). It is incredibly annoying and distracting to have music/radio that you hate forced upon you.
  • Music can add white-noise, thus reducing the distraction of other people's conversations. My workplace can get very noisy.
  • Music can help me with boring work. A productive person knows what to listen to and when. Sometimes I'll listen to some metal, sometimes some folk music - whatever works with my brain best at the time.

A happy workplace is a productive one.

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    Also noise cancelling headphones are very useful if you need more quietness. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 25 '16 at 9:30

No, the software development company should not play music in the development room. It is difficult to account for different tastes in music, and unwanted music is an intrusion that can negatively impact the concentration of the developers. You say that half of the developers have headphones on, which you assume to mean that they are listening to music. That means that half of them are choosing not to listen to music.

For developers, I don't worry about time that is wasted on something as trivial as selecting music to listen to. Development is an activity which requires a lot of thinking and analysis. The brain needs the opportunity to rest and not actively think about a problem, which makes it able to better and more quickly solve problems. The time that a developer is selecting music, unless it is extremely excessive, is an activity that lets the brain rest.

If your bandwidth is limited, and if usage of online music services is high, then that can be handled via a new policy that is communicated to the employees, and the online music service is then blocked by your servers. This is trivial to implement. Alternately, you could simply get better bandwidth.

If an employee is breaking the law by pirating music, then that is a matter to discuss with them (and, as above, block the site), and to consider whether to involve management, Human Relations, or someone else official to deal with the problem.

I'm unsure what you mean by "hearing power". If you mean that the employee won't overhear other conversations, then this might be exactly what the employee is trying to accomplish. They want to focus on their work, and conversations from others interrupt their concentration, so they wear headphones (which might or might not actually have music playing). If you are unable to get someone's attention when you need it, this can be alleviated by using other methods to get their attention, such as waving a hand in their field of vision. If you are concerned with your employees' hearing, that's really their concern and not yours.

Most importantly, consider the impact of such a change on your developers. If you are going to force them to stop wearing headphones while they are working, what impact will that have on their morale?

What is your goal in forcing employees to remove their headphones? If you want more control over how they are spending their time, you need to consider whether you are actually having issues with their output or whether you simply think that they could do more if they weren't wearing headphones. You should also consider why the employees are wearing headphones. If the work environment is distracting, headphones might be the employees' way of ensuring that they can focus.

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    The human brain can concentrate on many things at the same time. I can drive and listen to audio books. I can write software and listen to music that I like without any problems. If you can't, that's your problem. – gnasher729 Jun 18 '15 at 7:26
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    Great answer. The developers I came to know don't listen actively to the music. It's running in the background and thus doesn't require focus. Quite often the music is monotonous and lacks vocals such as many genres of electronic music. But this is all dependent on mood and taste. I have been listening to metal, electronic (exclusively now), rain, waves, white noise, binaural beats and more over the years. – musiKk Jun 18 '15 at 9:47
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    @sangramparmar What musiKk said. I work as a developer, and use headphones to listen to music (a mixture of styles of music) some of the time while I work. It's background accompaniment, and a way to drown out some of the conversations that other people are having in other offices and the hallway (I greatly prefer keeping my office door open), not something that I focus on actively. I'd be curious how you feel that forcing a specific choice of music on the developers (through speakers, even) would be less distracting than music selected by each individual programmer. – a CVn Jun 18 '15 at 9:58
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    @sangramparmar: “what about if they are listening music in headphone and Human brain can do one thing at a time”. If that was how human brains worked, you might have a point. “slow music not distract any one” — come by my office and try playing some slow music near me. I’ll soon let you know how much it distracts me. – Paul D. Waite Jun 18 '15 at 10:12
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    @sangramparmar “if they not like music that is played, than that is good for surety that there concentrate only on work”. But as you said before, the human brain can only do one thing at a time. So if they’re thinking about how much they don’t like the music that’s being played at them all day, they can’t write a line of code. – Paul D. Waite Jun 18 '15 at 10:13

One of the most frustrating and stressful things for human beings is to have no control over their environment.

People who wear headphones at work are often doing so in order to exert some control over their work environment, for example to shut out distracting conversations or other noises in an open-plan office (I know I do).

Playing even quiet, soft music would introduce another potentially unwanted thing into the environment. Even for people who do want to hear some music, different kinds of music are not fungible — one person’s glorious symphony is another person’s inoffensive background hum, and yet another person’s unbearable racket.

I suspect that more people would wear headphones, not less, in such an environment.

With regard to your list of headphone cons:

  • You’re entirely right that there are potential problems with people accessing internet music, but they’re nothing to do with headphones — people can listen to music on headphones from for example an iPod, or even a CD player.

  • Headphones only damage hearing if they’re used to play music too loudly. People are entirely capable of looking after their own ears.

  • And as for this:

    Sometimes employees waste his/her time in music selection

    Mm. Sometimes employees “waste” their time deciding whether to have tea or coffee too, but funnily enough, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to just pump tepid water directly into everyone’s mouth once an hour.

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    pump water... I can see Catbert's next HR decision already! – gbjbaanb Jun 18 '15 at 10:54
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    And a simple urinary catheter insertion every morning would complete the circle! – Paul D. Waite Jun 18 '15 at 10:55
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    @Paul D. Wait: Astronaut diapers, too! – jamesqf Jun 18 '15 at 18:06

Should software development companies play music in development rooms, so that employees don’t need to listen to music on headphones?

Absolutely not.

Playing music over the speakers implies that someone decides what music is best for everyone. I cannot imagine a scenario where everyone would like all of the same music.

These days, knowledge workers are used to listening to whatever they like, or having the choice to concentrate on their work and not listen to music at all.

I used to work in a retail store. It played music all day long - bad music. And in the holiday season, it played holiday music - ugh! If I had been a knowledge worker at the time, it would have been extremely annoying. That's not something I would wish on anyone.

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    I no longer shop at the closest grocery store to my home because of the obnoxious music. Now I drive a few extra miles to a store with no music and have a much better experience. I might be seeing a pattern where there is none, but it also seems like the staff and other patrons are in a better mood than in the store blaring US 80s pop rock. – ColleenV parted ways Jun 18 '15 at 12:43

If you look at places where music is played, it's all places where the people playing the music want the listeners to forget about whatever they think about right now and think of something else. It's used with the intention to distract:

  • The mall plays music to make your forget where you are. Don't think about what you do and that it will cost money, just put it in your basket.

  • The dentist plays music. Don't think about where you are, just relax.

  • In the elevator there is music, because thinking about being in an elevator is boring for 99% of people and frightening for the other 1%.

  • People doing manual labor listen to music, because while doing the work is bad enough, nobody wants to think about doing the work at the same time. That would be even worse.

So to sum it up, you play music to make people think about something else and not be aware of their situation.

You do not want that as a default for workers that are supposed to regularly use their brain.

Some of them may use headphones, so they are not distracted. And that's ok. It's the second best thing compared to silence. But it's only a personal workaround to a problem, don't make it even worse by forcing it on all developers.

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    It's called "elevator music" for a reason. Yes, if you forced me to listen to elevator music, that would do my brain in. But that's not what happens. And there has been scientific evidence that listening to music does for example improve your ability to learn, your ability to pass tests, and so on. – gnasher729 Jun 18 '15 at 7:28
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    Pubs? Yes. They play music so you stay longer and pay more money. They distract you from the fact that sitting there would be boring in itself. A concert on th other hand is nothing where people play music while you do something else. A concerts prime reason for existance is the fact that there is music. If you play music in your home then it is either because listening to music is your goal or because you need distraction from something that's boring. I do listen to music while ironing... but that's because it's manual labor I need to get my mind off. – nvoigt Jun 18 '15 at 7:32
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    @gnasher729 depends on the music - classical, yes; gangsta rap.. not so much. – gbjbaanb Jun 18 '15 at 10:55
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    @Dukeling Distracting people is the only reason for music. Sometimes people want to be distracted, that's why they go to concerts, sometimes other people want them to be distracted, that's why there is music in malls. Either way, for good or bad, music occupies people's minds. – nvoigt Jun 18 '15 at 12:40
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    @jamesqf That sounds like the ultimate distraction from whatever you were doing before. – nvoigt Jun 18 '15 at 19:58

I have been a musician for 30 years and have taken an alternate route. Now if a company puts me on hold on the phone it just annoys me. It is my view that most modern music is a control mechanism. It promotes misery especially those so called love songs. My woman left me, she dies, she gone.... and others attempt to promote a positive attitude.

Music shuts off the rational thinking/analytical side of the brain (left) and awakens the creative/EMOTIONAL side. (right).

From my studies I have also learned that classical music especially Baroque type helps the student by opening the right brain whilst learning.

In short, music is a manipulative tool. It creates emotions good or bad, calm or nasty.

It encourages the individual to make emotional decisions and not rational ones. Thereby helping sales in such places as Malls. I couldnt think of anything worse to do in an hi-tech environment. Although baroque would be the most helpful

  • Sorry forgot. It encourages the individual to make emotional decisions and not rational ones. Thereby helping sales in such places as Malls. I couldnt think of anything worse to do in an hi-tech environment. Although baroque would be the most helpful – Hawk007 Jun 18 '15 at 12:15
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    This discusses the effect of music on emotion but does not address the actual question of whether or not music should be played in an office. – David K Jun 18 '15 at 12:25
  • “Music shuts off the rational thinking/analytical side of the brain (left) and awakens the creative/EMOTIONAL side. (right).” The left-brain/right-brain rational/emotional distinction is somewhat nonsense. – Paul D. Waite Jun 18 '15 at 13:28
  • Whether or not the distinction is nonsense or not as described in any article by any online expert. 30 Years of experience tells me without a doubt that music dulls the senses. Leaving rational (what they call a left brain function). almost inoperable and not at all conducive to music being played in a working environment. So no music shouldnt be played in any working environment or used by any business to manipulate people. Large corporations have used music to elicit emotional responses and control the environment (people) for a long time. they do it for a reason. Cut the wires. lol. – Hawk007 Jun 19 '15 at 1:30

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