The Art of Listening to Music at Work

Piping music into a pair of headphones at work is standard operating procedure for plenty of office workers, who use the sound to drown out background noise or escape into a focused, happy place. But what about when listening to music out loud—and with your co-workers—becomes a job requirement? That's long been the case in most retail chains, where employees have to listen to whatever somebody at headquarters decided fits the vibe of the store.

This week on Game Plan, Francesca and Rebecca find examples of communal workplace listening, including the aforementioned retail setting and a public relations firm that's experimenting with a cooperative DJ-ing environment. Even in operating rooms, many surgeons use music to focus on their high-stakes work, but one—Becca's dad—bans tunes except during the holidays. We look at the effect of music on our productivity and happiness at work, and ask whether forced-music regimes can make people's jobs better, or if jamming should remain a solo pursuit.

To contact the authors of this story: Francesca Levy in New York at, Rebecca Greenfield in New York at