Music at Work

The idea that whistling while you work helps get the job done may have started as a Disney tale, but the combination of music and work may be more beneficial than Snow White could have ever imagined. Although, office employees are still split on the idea. While some prefer an added melody, others would rather throw on their noise-canceling headphones and get through their day without distractions.

Some benefits associated with music at work include the following:

  • Research has suggested listening to music in the workplace improves productivity.
  • Listening to music you like could make the day go faster.
  • For some people, music increases their focus.
  • Music could drown out sensitive conversations.

Some drawbacks associated with music at work include the following:

  • It has the potential to be distracting.
  • The playlist could include hated songs.
  • The music could be too loud.

So how many people prefer workplace playlists? We surveyed 1,005 employees and employers about workplace music’s effect on their productivity as well as about the audio to which they preferred listening. Continue reading to see what we learned about office tunes.

Are You Listening?

Workplace Listening Habits Infographic

According to our study, most people listened to music while they worked, with around 42 percent listening to some form of media the entire workday. Some offices stick with silence as a way of trying to benefit their employees – ridding of distractions and any possible annoyances – but almost 18 percent of workplaces played music. For offices that didn’t provide the playlist, roughly 82 percent of employed people said they were allowed to listen to their own audio if they wanted.

Research has shown listening to music is linked to increased productivity at work, but when it comes to podcasts and audiobooks, the research is lacking. However, 94 percent of employed people chose to listen to music at work, while about 35 percent listened to podcasts and 15 percent listened to audiobooks. It probably comes down to the work one is doing when determining whether media benefits or hinders their work.

Certain industries were also more likely to have music incorporated in their workday. Seeing as hotel lobbies and retail stores usually have music for business playing for their guests and customers, it makes sense that the hospitality and retail industries were the most likely to listen to music throughout the workday. On the other hand, those in the education and scientific fields were the least likely to listen to music.

Perceived Productivity

How Music Affects Workplace Productivity Infographic

Whether music improved their mood, kept them from becoming too stressed, or helped them stay awake, almost 80 percent of employed people believed listening to music at work increased their productivity. Despite research backing the majority’s perception, though, around 4 percent still said music decreased their productivity. However, this may have something to do with listening to the wrong music for specific tasks.

The information services and data processing industry was the most likely to think music increased workplace productivity, followed by the wholesale and retail industry. The medical and health care industry came in third for those believing music increased workplace productivity.

In a study conducted in 2020, researchers found conflicting information about the impact of music in medical settings. They found that classical music played at a low or medium volume could increase a surgeon’s performance, but tunes that were loud or had a fast beat could be harmful.

How Productive Is Your Preference?

Percentage Perceiving Music Genres as Productive or Disruptive Infographic

Listening to music at work isn’t always beneficial. If you’re trying to increase productivity by adding music into your workday, choosing the right genre is key. Thirty-one percent of employed people perceived classic rock to be the most productivity-inducing genre of music. Alternative and pop music rounded out the top three genres, followed by classical music – the genre that science says is best for your brain and body.

Some music can negatively impact productivity, however. According to employed people surveyed, hip-hop and heavy metal were the most distracting. While heavy metal may not be the best fit for staff needing to concentrate, it could be the genre for you if you’re looking for a playlist to release some anger or brighten your mood.

We examined current research on music genres and worker productivity to see if our results match what others have discovered.

While few studies have been performed on music in specific types of jobs, one we found involved tech workers. Those who listened to R&B music tended to have the highest annual incomes, while those who listened to hip-hop were more likely to have received a raise in the last year.

In general, experts say two overall genres are best for productivity. They include nature sounds and classical music. Both have no words, so they’re not distracting, and they can increase feelings of contentment.

Experts agree that the best music is something you like regardless of your field. In one study of music preferences among workers, the pop/charts/folk/indie category was the most popular at 35%, followed by the rock/blues/grunge/metal genre at 26%. The classical/instrumental/lounge category was the least popular at 7%.

Music & Productivity: A Focused Look

Before we dive back into our survey results, let’s examine what modern research says about the relationship between music at work and your productivity.

Researchers say that the music we play can trigger an emotional response, and when it’s positive, we tend to feel a higher level of job satisfaction. As a result, we tend to perform a little better at work because we’re confident in our ability to do so. In other words, playing music we like gives us a little boost of self-confidence, which might make us better workers.

Other researchers say that music at work can influence our executive functions, and that can alter our performance. If we’re listening to music that keeps us focused and motivated but is not so distracting that we can’t concentrate on our work, it could make us more productive.

Analysts point out that more creative people tend to use music to enhance performance. People like this tend to have minds that wander, and music provides a sense of escape. They’re more likely to feel creative when their minds have a little time to focus on something else.

Plugged In, Noise Out

Workplace Headphone Use Habits Infographic

Everyone in the office may not always agree: Music or no music? Rather than just sitting in silence, some employees may turn to headphones to either personalize their playlist or block outside noise. Almost 56 percent of employed people used headphones regularly in the workplace. Interestingly, though, 46 percent put on a pair to avoid conversations at work, which could potentially cause issues in the workplace.

Over 67 percent of government and public administration employees used headphones to avoid workplace conversations. Transportation and warehousing employees reported wearing headphones to avoid conversations almost as much as government employees, though. Industry differences aside, the majority of employed people thought headphone use increased their productivity.

Retail Repetition

Perception of Music at Retail Workplaces Infographic

When walking into a retail store, you’re likely to notice music playing in the background – at times, a little too loudly. Luckily for customers, they are only subject to the music as long as they are in the store. But what about retail workers? The music can get tiresome. For over 62 percent of employees working in retail, they disliked corporate playlists the most when they repeated over and over again. Around a third of employees disliked that other people dominated the playlist, or didn’t like the music being played.

Corporate playlists aren’t all bad, though. Seventy-five percent of retail workers thought music increased their productivity, and only around 3 percent thought it had the opposite effect. Retail employees without a corporate playlist were even more likely to think music had a positive effect on their workday – 81 percent felt it increased their productivity.

Coming Together With Music

Social Impact of Music in the Workplace Infographic

They say music is a universal language, and it certainly has a way of connecting people, but depending on whom you surround yourself with, it can also cause a bit of debate. Tastes in music won’t always align, so how do employed people navigate differences in music preferences? Almost 59 percent of employees connected more easily with co-workers or superiors who shared their tastes in music, and employers agreed – 65 percent connected more easily when tastes were shared. However, around 41 percent of employees and 35 percent of employers said music tastes didn’t affect their connections with other staff.

A difference in taste may cause judgment, though. Around 26 percent judged others for their music preferences. Still, over a third believed their team was unified by their workplace playlist.

Pick the Right Playlist

There’s no question that music is powerful. It can alter moods, bring people together, and even boost our health. But the music that makes you feel good at home or gets your blood pumping in the gym likely isn’t the same music you should be listening to at work. Picking the right playlist is vital to reap the benefits of increased productivity, and working with the right music provider makes picking easy. At Pandora CloudCover, we provide a wide variety of music types and customized playlists so that your business needs are met. And no need to worry about exposing your business to any serious fines – all of our music is 100 percent licensed so that you can increase productivity without breaking any laws.


We collected 1,005 responses from 43 employers and 962 employees in a survey about music in the workplace. 136 of the responding employees currently work in retail stores, and they gave an insight into the perception of music at retail workplaces. 49.5 percent of respondents were women, and 50.5 percent identified as men. Participants ranged from teenagers with the age of 18 to respondents with the age of 74. The average age of respondents was 35 and the standard deviation was 10.6. Some industries are not represented due to insufficient sample sizes.

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting by the respondents. Issues with self-reporting can include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the questions we often hear about playing music in the workplace:

Is playing music at work universally helpful?

No. While some people love listening to music while they work, others find the sounds distracting or irritating.

What’s the best music to play at work?

It depends. The best music to play at work is something you like, that makes you feel more focused, and that doesn’t distract you from the tasks at hand. For some people, the right music is instrumental only. For others, it involves power ballads. 

How loud should the music be?

It depends. If you operate in a noisy environment (like a manufacturing plant), your songs might play louder than those you’d hear in a quiet office. In general, the music shouldn’t be so distracting that your workers can’t hear one another or focus on their tasks.

Who should choose the songs?

It depends. Some employers allow their workers to give input on the songs played, while others never ask for feedback. If you’re worried your staff will choose music that could offend others or your clients, don’t let them choose.


Fair Use Statement

Do you find this information on music in the workplace interesting and want to share it with others? You can! Images and information found on this site are available for noncommercial reuse. Just make sure you link back to this page.

Get Legal Streaming Music for Your Enterprise Business

Start Free Trial

No credit card required