Headphones at Work

As I work in more and more offices (and look at more and more Facebook timelines), I am surprised by how many people listen to music at work.

At my job right out of college, we had a little radio with a tape player, and I had to fight to get to listen to NPR in the mornings. We also had a hilarious collection of “work-appropriate” tapes, including a fantastic collection of Texan gospel spirituals that always made me really happy. I am also pretty sure that my boss would listen to the Cubs on the radio during the summer, which was and is awesome. I am such a supporter of these types of background noise–I find the radio or TV comforting, and it would help me to not spend all my time at work reading the news and trying to distract myself from drudgery. I know bartenders listen to music at work, and we also always had music or the radio on in the shop when we were building a set in college.

In graduate school, I listened to music all the time, and I discovered a love of classical music, as it was easier to read and write to music with no lyrics. My amazing brother got me these fantastic noise cancelling headphones that were perfect for the library, and I would sit, as if in a movie, hunched over my computer, drafting my terrible thesis.

Some people I have worked with since then have been staunch supporters of headphones at work, especially people whose main function is writing and editing, and people whose desks are in well-trafficked sections of the office (say, next to the printer). I myself would put on music when I was cutting checks–no distractions–or collating materials–boring!–in order to better organize myself. But in general, it was frowned upon.

Making too much noise at your desk or in your part of the office is usually frowned upon as well, which explain the headphones. But at the same time, if you are going to listen to a 2 hour Siggur Ros concert, shouldn’t you do that at home? Should a colleague really have to physically touch you in order to get your attention?

Anyway, mostly I am just jealous that you people listen to music at work, with your iTunes and your Spotify and your Pandora. I think this also speaks to a shift in managerial attitudes towards privacy, personal internet use, and methods for focus at work in the past 5-10 years. I used to work at a company where the IT people read my emails and tracked my internet usage, and I would have to ask permission to gain access to certain sites for research, and could only check my personal email for one hour at lunch. Now, the kids are all g-chatting and emailing, on Facebook and Twitter, listening to their Pandora stations, and it’s all kind of fine. Or is it? I can’t tell if companies have just given up on policing internet usage, or if these freedoms really make workers more productive.

Do you listen to music at work? Share your favorite work playlist with me on Spotify, seriously! (If we are Facebook friends, we can be Spotify friends, right?)


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