Music at Work

Lately I have been enjoying the soulful and poetic music of Carrie Newcomer.  Soon to be the recipient of Shalem Institute’s Contemplative Voices Award, this talented singer and poet writes beautifully about looking within, following the compass of one’s heart, learning to surrender, and other contemplative ways of living in this world. I’ve found that listening to her music helps me to feel more spiritually grounded in my work and day-to-day life.

Rarely do I listen to music while working (or, as in this case, interspersed with working) and I felt moved to ask, “Does music improve creativity at work?” While I have loved music for as long as I can remember, I have separated listening to music from my work. My musings led me to further experimentation and to Dr. Anneli B. Haake’s research concerning music at work.

Dr. Haake has discovered in her research that, despite much public opinion to the contrary, self-selected music improves work performance. One of her studies demonstrated how music helped employees enhance their concentration by “reducing both internal and external distractions (blocking out unwanted sounds, signaling to colleagues not to disturb, preventing daydreaming, and helping to block unwelcome thoughts).”

Not only does music enhance concentration, it also contributes to relaxation at work, Dr. Haake found. Through channeling stress and negative emotions, through reminding listeners of time and space outside of work, and through creating space for reflection, music calmed workers. Employees reported how relaxation helped them provide better customer service and work more effectively on their teams.

Of particular interest to me, Dr. Haake’s research established the value of listening to music not only for simple tasks, but also for complex tasks. While earlier studies had confirmed music’s ability to help workers more effectively perform routine tasks, Dr. Haake’s latest studies also demonstrated that music could enhance concentration and creativity in complex tasks. Self-selected music does indeed improve creativity at work.

Dr. Haake adds a few caveats to her findings about the value of listening to music at work. Above all, music must be self-selected. When management pipes in music or a co-worker’s music blares, employees report irritation and distraction. Furthermore, listening to music at work is not for everyone, and even those who listen to music with some tasks prefer a quiet atmosphere at other times. Music at work must be self-directed.

A new discovery for me (how could I be so far behind the times?), music at work will now add another dimension to my work environment. I will experiment with when to listen and what to listen to. No longer does music need to be separated from my work. I have discovered a powerful new tool for groundedness, reflection, and courageous creativity.

(If you are interested in learning more about the Contemplative Voices Award event honoring Carrie Newcomer, please see the Shalem website for more information).

(This blog is a further development of an April 2012 blog.)

 

2 Responses to “Music at Work”


  1. 1 Elaine October 1, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    When I was in veterinary school I found a certain DeBussy album (yes, this was the late 70’s) was just the ticket while studying. Currently, when I am sermon writing (MDiv 2007) it is the 10th Anniversary Dream cast of Les Mis.


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