Headphone use at the office

Question: Can you use headphones at your office?

Seems like an odd question to ask, doesn’t it? The reason why I’m asking this is that I was just informed that headphone use is no longer acceptable practice in my department. The reasoning for the ban was cited as “studies show lack of focus when listening to headphones”.

Personally, I call BS. Now, instead of having my own space in my pseudo open cubicle farm I get to listen to my fellow employee’s personal phone conversations, NPR news, random music at varying volumes and the constant whine of computer fans.

Can anyone back this up with some truth? Headphone use aids in focus by reducing the number of distractions?

Only thing ive read on the subject was that an environment with people not using headphones, and everyone listening to the same stereo instead supposedly increases creativity. (I think it also said that using headphones increased effectivity, but dont quote me on that one)

I’ll see if i can find the article. It was years ago i read it.

But the lack of focus bit sounds like complete bull… Sounds more like someone above find it annoying

More like they want to be controlling and they were fed BS studies by “Lean Manufacturing” wizards at Toyota…

I found this to be an interesting read that is appropriately non-committal in my opinion.


It is definitely not black and white, would most likely depend on the person, where they sit, type of work, what they are listening and so many other compounding variables that to say “studies show lack of focus when listening to headphones” and then say no one can wear headphones is ridiculous, “studies also show improved focus when listening to headphones”
different studies, different workers, etc. My point is this can really be debated either way, again not a black and white, yes or no, many variables at play. Taking that decision and autonomy of allowing workers to choose how they work and what makes them more effective is surely not good for morale.

The study does seem to be pretty definitive on headphone use as a means of employee retention, maybe that some research worth sharing with management…???

Another thing that often comes up is headphones being used for signaling to others they do not wish to be disturbed, which I find of great benefit in many offices.

Some interesting articles on the effects of music. Some of the findings wont be relevant, but some will. Be sure to check Page 4. Im so happy I can wear headphones. Id be lost without them. In fact, Im sure i would go insane having to listen to meetings going on 3 feet from me (happens every day for 3 hours with 9 people).

Someone should do a study to see the effect of over-bearing block head managers effect workers. I doubt we’ll ever get rid of those though.

This is just like the net and everything else. It’s some HR guy or exec getting his rise on through passing completely ineffective and irrelevant regs that only lead to p***ing everyone off. As you said, this has only lead to everyone listening to radios in the open air, probably leading to distraction to other employees and decreasing their productivity.

Also, my lead reason for leaving my last job was the horrible adult contemporary music that was blasting out of all the office phones. That was a design position btw, not something dead end. After 3 years, I couldn’t take it!

I work on an open plan floor that is full of lots of different departments, so lots of different work goes on- phone conferences, team meetings, people on phones, auditing- lots of different sorts of noise. Plus different parts of the business have different cultures you get lots of different kinds of behaviour- loud talkers, ridiculous mobile ring tones, old-man smokers laughs, people who seem to spend the majority of their working day doing personal business on the phone etc.

Without headphones to block out this brown noise I’d end up on the roof with a rifle, but I listen to podcasts (talk) and music through one in-ear headphone, so with the other ear I can hear the occassional “Hey!!” that comes across the partitions.

That said, I can’t do any work with words (i.e. writing an explanation of sales analysis, essay writing) if I’m listening to talk- I just can’t concentrate, but for my uni. work I can sketch while I have the kids screaming at my feet and my wife and I trying to talk- must be a left/ right brain thing.

On another note, I heard that the muzak company automatically licences any song that makes the top twenty, so quite often you’ll get in an elevator and hear a quite serious/ protest song (i.e “London Calling”, “Beds are Burning”) done in the muzak style, but without any hint on irony.

That reminds me of a time that I visited my dad’s office at Steelcase as a kid and heard the Muzak version of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” playing over the speakers. I never forgot that.

Sorry to hear that you lost your headphone rights, NURB. I would really miss my personal entertainment if it was taken away from me. I use a pair of Sennheiser open-air headphones while at work and depending on how loud they are, I can hear pretty much everything else going on around me. I think open air headphones are the way to go because I am not totally tuned out to my surroundings, but I can still pretend that I am when the most annoying guy in the office tries to get my attention about something useless.

I guess it really has most to do with the implication of not being focused on your task (more Lean BS), not that you can’t hear someone talking to you (which is pretty nice sometimes…)

Thanks for the links. I’m going to need some ammo tomorrow when I go in guns blazin’.

HAHA, I can’t remember hearing any Muzak in my time at Steelcase, I’m sure they’re piping it in somewhere, but thankfully no where that I am working.

Head phones if anything help me concentrate. I am to easily distracted by all of the goings on in the office but if im listening to music or podcasts i can shut everything else out and just work.

So we got the same news last week that we can’t listen to headphones either. We were told it’s “not professional” and it makes us seem cut off from discussion. That’s just B.S. We also work in an new open floor plan where you can hear everything around you, it’s distracting. We have those new lower cubes too where you see everyone walking around. I don’t think non-designers really understand that getting into a long groove of design thinking/process is when you get your best work. Stop, go, stop go there is never any flow. It’s not like returning to a spreadsheet.

So now my goal is to keep distracting my boss to the point they need to put their headphones on.

Rules are made to be broken. Just ignore it.

Get a headset and pretend to always have a skype convo.

I have a pair of small open headphones (skullcandy icon), that way I can pull them forward to listen in on the office chat when needed. I’m also not totally unreachable if someone was to shout my name. It can be a bit annoying not being able to get attention of someone with plugs, but in those cases we get to throw stuff at each other so it’s all good. Keeps the morale up.

This is an article that I read a few weeks ago concerning earphones and a couple of other interesting theories.

I agree!! I work in a VERY open office and music is the only way I get anything done. In our office if you see someone with headphones on it is a sign that they are trying to focus. This does not mean you cannot interrupt them, it just makes people think about walking up and asking useless questions. Inow even find when I work from home that I have to put on music to help me get into the grove and the the only other thing in the house is my dog!!