I recently read a post in Dave Clemens’ HR Cafe on the issue of whether employers should let employees listen to music or other material on headphones while at work. He noted that surveys show that employees feel more productive and satisfied while listening to music, books, etc. and that with headphones on, they’re less distracted. He then went on to discuss when it might be inappropriate to let employees do this (e.g., if they’re in customer service) and the dangers inherent in wearing headphones such as failure to hear a fire alarm or co-worker questions.
This got me thinking. My main thought being: I don’t think employees should be on headphones during work.
I must confess first that I don’t like the modern habit of listening to music 24/7: on the bus, when walking, when shopping, etc. I believe in interacting with the world, not being perpetually distracted and separate from it.
That being said, some activities are very boring — exercise at the gym, for example–and even I can’t condemn doing something else while exercising.
So with that as a starting point, maybe wearing headphones at work can be appropriately allowed if: (1) the work is fairly solitary and repetitive; (2) listening to music, news or whatever will not affect accuracy or other elements of job performance; and (3) the employee can still readily hear what’s going on around him or her. I would also add that the employee needs permission to wear headphones and that he or she should not be allowed to wear them for excessively long periods of time and certainly not all day.
There are (at least) two problems, however, with my criteria: they potentially pigeonhole certain jobs and can create resentment among others who are not allowed to wear headphones. The answer to the first problem, of course, is not to label the headphone-appropriate jobs as “boring.” Other, more positive descriptions such as those used above are better. As for the second problem, if the criteria are clearly stated and consistently applied, theoretically there will be no grounds for complaint. Or maybe an employer can institute “Headphone Friday.”
On the other hand, maybe it’s just easier to ban headphones altogether. Your thoughts? ~Amy Stephson