Corporate America is whistling while it works: According to digital music service Spotify, 61% of people stream music during the workday with 36% saying they use music to get them through the day. One person’s motivational music can be another’s nails-down-a-chalkboard irritation, so all of this music-streaming almost certainly means there are a lot of annoyed colleagues sick of listening to their co-workers’ music, tired of raising their voice to be heard over headphones and the like.
We’re not saying you need to work in silence, but there are some good music etiquette practices you should observe that will help keep you in harmony with your fellow workers.
Some companies don’t let workers wear headphones. The experts are unanimous: If you’re allowed to, you probably should. But that doesn’t let you off the hook from good music etiquette.
“Don’t wear headphones 24/7,” says Harvard Business Review writer Anne Kreamer, who wrote about office music in a 2012 blog post. “You’ll isolate yourself.”
“Never wear your ear phones away from your desk – anywhere,” says business etiquette consultant Ellen Reddick. It doesn’t matter if you’re just going to the bathroom, down the hall to the copy machine, down to the lobby for a snack — if you’re leaving your desk, take them off.
“Don’t hum along or tap your foot or desk,” Reddick says. It kind of defeats the point of headphones if your co-workers have to listen along anyway.
On that note, Kreamer says it’s important to make sure you’re the only one who can hear that music coming from your headset. “Be sensitive to your co-workers and ensure they can’t hear bass sounds leaking out.”
If you’re not using a headset, you need to have a conversation with the other people who work within earshot.
“Trying to attain group consensus is also a smart idea,” says Vicky Oliver, consultant and author of several business books, including, 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions. “Do yourself a favor and ask those who are sitting nearby if they mind if you listen to music while you work, and, assuming they don’t, what type of music they’d prefer to hear.”
If you’re listening without headphones in shared space, you might want to stick to mainstream tunes: Spotify says 10% of survey respondents admitted to judging a co-worker based on their choice of music.
And keep it down, Oliver advises. “Always turn the volume to low if you work in an open space without walls,” she says.
Spotify says pop music is the most popular, with rock a close second. But if you work with a huge fan of Gregorian chants or the Three Tenors and your music is shared, Oliver suggests trading days: Pink today, Puccini tomorrow.
And finally, don’t make your music a higher priority than your colleagues. “If someone come to your desk, remove your ear phones — both of them,” Reddick says. “Do not just remove one to talk with another person.” It sends them a not-so-subtle signal that you’re only half-listening to them.