Is playing music in the office a productivity booster or an annoying distraction?

According to behavioural scientists and management experts, it's definitely the former.

But as anyone who has been forced to endure Christmas carols at work knows, some music is best heard in private.

"It's one of those things that's been lost from a lot of workplaces over the last 10 or 15 years," said project management expert Colin Ellis.

Advertisement

"Certainly it's something that's been proven scientifically to improve workplace cultures. Even among people that are staunchly against it, it's been proven that after three weeks or so they get into the swing of it."

Last year, a study by researchers at Cornell University found playing happy, upbeat music in a work environment increased co-operation between team members and improved group decision-making.

For the study, workers were grouped into teams of three, with each team member given tokens which could be either contributed to the team or kept for personal use.

They found that when songs such as "Yellow Submarine" or "Walking on Sunshine" were played, team contributions were about one third higher than when unpleasant music - such as obscure heavy metal songs - was played.

"Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they're listening to music that has a steady beat to it," researcher Kevin Kniffin said.

"Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not. Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it's very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions."

Fellow researcher Brian Wansink added that what was great about the findings, "other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work", was that happy music had the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.

Other studies have highlighted the benefits of playing music at work, with one survey finding music improved the workplace mood in 87 per cent of cases.

But according to Mr Ellis, too many people confine music to their headphones, which are a barrier to collaboration and a demonstration that the company hasn't set its office up to help people who need silence to work effectively.

"The people who put in headphones, generally the organisation hasn't provided them with an environment to do their best work - it isn't quiet enough," he said.

"These open-plan environments which organisations think are a great thing are only good for one personality type, extroverts."

Mr Ellis said it was important for organisations to set up work spaces for different personality types. Music can then form part of each work space, rather than being blasted across the whole office.

"As part of that, take the headphones out and let the culture in," he said.

"What's worked really well for me is to have different genres. Every day it's a different playlist or a different radio station. One of my team members really loves classical music, so we had a classical day.

"What we found is some of the people really loved the music. It creates a talking point, people coming into workspaces to just listen."