How Music Can Make Your Office More (Or Less) Productive

New research draws attention to the role music plays in workplace productivity.

How Music Can Make Your Office More (Or Less) Productive
[Photo: Frank van Delft/Getty Images]

If you want your employees to work well together and get more done as a team, it might help to pipe in some upbeat tunes. Research from Cornell University has found that employees who listen to happy music–like the Beatles’s “Yellow Submarine”–are able to cooperate and make group decisions better than employees who work without a background soundtrack.


“Retailers certainly use music routinely with the intention of influencing consumer behavior,” says Kevin Kniffin, an applied behavioral scientist at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and lead author of the study. “The point of our new research is to draw attention to the role that music can have for employees, whether in retail workplaces or any other kind.”

Researchers played “Yellow Submarine”; “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves; “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison; and the theme song from “Happy Days” on a loop in a workplace environment, says Kniffin. “A definitional feature of happy music is that it has a rhythm to it,” he says. “Happy music significantly and positively influences cooperative behavior,” Kniffin points out. “We also find a significant positive association between mood and cooperative behavior.”

Other types of music had more surprising results: “We played ‘screamo’ music (“Smokahontas” by Attack Attack! and “You Ain’t No Family” by Iwrestledabearonce) for one-third of the participants in our second study, and there was no difference between that kind of heavy metal-type music and the third who participated in the decision-making study with no music playing in the background,” says Kniffin. “Our research points clearly to the value of happy or rhythmic music.”


Creating A Workplace Playlist

Nicole Stillings, aka DJ Rose, is a New York City-based music director who creates playlists for companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue and HBO that help with branding. She also chooses music that helps companies achieve certain goals, like focus and productivity.

“More brands are starting to understand that music is more than a way to market to customers,” she says. “Over time, more of my clients are shifting their music from stores to corporate.”

If you’re going to play music in your workplace, the most important thing you need to do is match the music to the task, says Stillings. “If you’re trying to do something that requires focus, like writing, you’re using the language part of the brain,” she says. “You can create overload if you try to listen to music that has heavy vocals. It’s better to listen to something downtempo, like elevator or classical music.”


She suggests this playlist (also uploaded to Spotify):

  • “Intro” by The XX
  • “Fleur Blanche” by Orsten
  • “My Deep & Magical Ambient- Guitar Version” by Stigmato Inc
  • “A Gentle Dissolve” by Thievery Corportation
  • “True” by Spandau Ballet (Lane 8 Edit)
  • “The Cello Song” by The Piano Guys
  • “Peponi (Paradise)” The Piano Guys, Alex Boyé
  • “You & Me” by Dr.Unkenbeat (Jacques Gusto Remix)
  • “La Isla Bonita” by Budda Bar Sonora
  • “Sensify Me” by Zimmer (Crayon Remix)
  • “Hey Now” by London Grammar (PIU Beach Edit)

When it comes to tackling mundane tasks like checking emails, Stillings suggests listening to something upbeat and positive. “Music can make a task more interesting, and increase your productivity by helping you get through it quicker.”

She offers this playlist to boost productivity (also uploaded to Spotify):

  • “Raging” by Kygo
  • “Capsize” by Friendship, Emily Warren
  • “Final Song” by MØ
  • “Fast Car” by Jonas Blue. Dakota
  • “This Girl” by Kungs, Cookin’ on 3 Burners
  • “Your Type” by Carly Rae Jepsen (Young Bombs Remix)
  • “I Love You Always Forever” by Betty Who (Viceroy Remix)
  • “Boss” by Disclosure
  • “Gold” by Kiiara (Achtabahn Remix)
  • “Groove Is in the Heart” by Dinks (Rework)
  • “Feel Good” by Satin Jackets, Scavenger Hunt (Keljet Remix)
  • “Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)” by Cheat Codes, Dante Klein

“The right playlist can help you focus specifically on the task at hand by allowing your brain to follow along with the rhythms being played,” says Michael Tyrrell, founder of Wholetones, a website that offers playlists designed to relieve stress and boost productivity. “This decreases the amount of random distracting thoughts that would typically derail you during the course of the workday and allows you to deeply focus,” he says.

Music In Action

Music helps keep the employees of, an online source of discount codes, focused. “Depending on the time of year, we have between three and several dozen employees verifying the accuracy of the hundreds of thousands of coupons we have on the site; a tedious but necessary task,” says Mike Catania, chief technology officer. “For us, the presence of music is more a catalyst to getting the brain into ‘the zone’ for repeated tasks,” he explains. “Familiar music, regardless of the style, directly affects the quality of tasks like these for the better.” In fact, the company saw a 24% decrease in input errors three months after adding music to the workplace, says Catania.

Employees at Nextiva, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based cloud-based communications provider with 400 employees, uses music throughout the office for motivation. The company’s phone service has a noise-canceling feature so customers can’t hear background noise.


“We play music at all times, mostly Top 40 hits to keep the energy high,” says Yaniv Masjedi, vice president of marketing. “We are so into music that we play a 10-second clip of a special song selected by a sales rep every time they make a big sale,” he enthuses. “The feedback has been positive among the team and it keeps everyone in a good mood.”

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