Music in the office is fine, but headphone use is polite |

Music in the office is fine, but headphone use is polite

Dawn Klingensmith
CTW Features

Public relations professional Kristin Vincenzo sits next to a co-worker who listens to death metal throughout the day. For those who aren’t familiar with this genre of music, it sounds like Cookie Monster screaming and firing a machine gun.

“He doesn’t play it particularly loud,” Vincenzo says, “but it is loud enough that I have to turn on my own computer and listen to the radio in order to drown out the noise.”

As a result, “There is a low roar in our office, kind of like listening to adults talk in a Peanuts cartoon,” she says.

An employee who sits nearby has resorted to wearing headphones all day.

Meanwhile, at another firm, Alexis Lignos and her two office mates agree that playing music pumps them up and makes the day go by faster. And at a third company, David Lewis, the president and CEO, allows music to play “in the open” from an iPod he provides, while several employees listen to their own tunes through ear buds.

Why does music cause discord in some offices and not others? Are there do’s and don’ts when it comes selecting and playing music at work?

Wearing headphones or ear buds to contain the noise is perhaps the easiest solution, although it “isolates the employee from easy communication, especially in open floor plans where the design is meant to allow for free discussion and idea sharing,” Lewis says.

Music works for Lignos and her office mates because, among the three of them, there’s one designated DJ who plays a range of genres and provides the other two with remote controls to adjust the volume when the phone rings.

It works for Lewis because he tries to find music everyone can at least tolerate, which he admits took some doing. “We tried easy listening Internet radio, then moved to holiday music in November. Now we’re back to a mix of pop and Top 40.”

Music played openly is “bound to disturb some people and needs to be carefully selected for style and content,” he adds.

To be on the safe side, he recommends checking with your supervisor or HR office to determine proper practices.

Vincenzo is trying to work up the courage to tell her co-worker to turn down his death metal. “Frankly, he’s been at the company for a while and I’m new so I don’t feel comfortable asking him to stop,” she says. “And I assume that everyone is OK with it because no one says anything.”

Or maybe they’re just trying to cancel him out with their own tunes. And since sound travels both ways, the death metal dude might be suffering a form of torture at her hands. “I listen to a lot of news radio,” Vincenzo says. “Perhaps I’m just as annoying to him as he is to me.”