Music & Motivation – Research into music at work and whether this increases productivity?

Some interesting research published by the University of Milton Hale, from Professor James Evesham this week on the impact of music on the work force.

It seems that many companies are using music at work. Some simply in the elevator, so the music is only heard in short bursts. Others have music piped across the whole office.

Evesham conducted a study across 47 organisations and reviewed output on a daily basis to explore whether music does have a place in the workplace. He wanted to know whether any kind of music could in fact be motivational, and whether any music could demotivate people at work.  His findings make interesting reading and we have shared some of the main finding here:

  • Some music does improve productivity and well being – It is clear that the choice of music is critical
  • Some music can actually reduce productivity at work
  • Some seems to work on the brain to stimulate innovation and creative thinking
  • Some can have a negative impact and reduce corporate tolerance to stress and pressure.

Here are a sample of the music recommendations you can find in the appendix to his report published 23 October 2013.

Songs to improve productivity

Contrary to popular opinion. Blasting your workforce with ‘Simply The Best’ by Tina Turner did not seem to work. In fact when he tried it he observed a cynical reaction from staff who found the words ‘vapid and irrelevant’.

The tunes that generated increased productivity worked on a more subliminal level. Evesham observed that the brain seemed to detect meaning that the ears were unable to hear. So subconsciously people worked harder. The following all created increased output:

 ‘Making Your Mind Up’ – Bucks Fizz – Evesham believed this song taps into what he calls the nostalgia genome – The brain connected with times when the UK was strong in Europe and less vulnerable to European block voting thus creating momentum and positive outcomes.

 ‘Tenkujin’ By The Far East Family Band – created a connection with global competition. Interestingly the listeners complained that this was ‘irritating foreign garbage’ but they actually seemed to work harder as a result.

‘You’re Beautiful’ By James Blunt – A powerful work song apparently with workers compelled to work hard all day. Evesham did find one example of this song being used as a threat by an over zealous manager who was heard to say ‘if you don’t hit target today I will Blunt you all’. He does not however think this one example should detract from what is clearly an inspiring song for many.

‘I Started Out With Nothing & I Still Got Most Of It Left’ – By Seasick Steve. – Evesham found that the misery of traditional blues still worked with today’s work force. This track by Seasick Steve is a good example of the genre working subliminally. In experiments, employees became more tolerant of poor working conditions and more resilient to being downtrodden by leaders and management. In fact in one organisation if you ask how people are, they will respond with the title of this song.

 ‘Don’t Forget Your Shovel If You Want To Go To Work’ – Christy Moore . Evesham found this song to be incredibly powerful and resulted in a 2.97 increase in worker productivity when played. Indeed many workers reported of an increase of the desire to ‘dig deeper to increase profits. There were some for whom this song did nothing at all but Evesham discovered that playing on repeat all day through the office speaker system did seem to energise the workforce.

‘Rule The World’ – Take That. Evesham found a correlation between this song and management engagement. This in turn resulted in productivity improvements. Many employees complained about their Boss’s singing this at work and Evesham did identify a further research project. He wonders whether a boss with a  good voice who can carry a tune should be added as a core leadership competency. There were certainly signs that singing ability was every bit as useful as the ability to set SMART goals and to take tough decisions. A further research project is planned for the new year.

 Songs that reduced worker productivity

The following songs resulted in a 4.71% average reduction on the performance index.

 Beyonce – ‘Crazy In Love’ – This song proved a disaster. Evesham did interview a sample of respondents and found a couple of problems. Firstly it created a feeling of inadequacy fueled by the ‘perfect image’ of the performer. It also created a number of health problems as many were signed off sick for muscular pain and RSI which Evesham fails to explain in the report. Evesham advises against any songs by Beyonce or Destiny’s Child at work.

 ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ – Stealers Wheel – Again Evesham found this song to be problematic for two reasons. Firstly the title seemed to remind people of the inadequacy of organisational leadership that was reinforced by the lyrics as follows:

 I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,

And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,

Clowns to the left of me,

Jokers to the right, here I am,

Stuck in the middle with you.

Perhaps more worrying was that, even when played at low volumes, many listeners would take knives from the canteen and dance around colleagues in a threatening way. Evesham does report on two cases of gross misconduct as a result.

 ‘Born To Run’ – Bruce Springsteen  –  Something of a dilemma this one. Initially this song had great results. People felt uplifted and energised and there was a 3.87 increase in productivity. It was only through a test-retest validity sample that Evesham found that the initial productivity improvement was much lower when you factored in employee retention. It seemed that this song created a strong dissatisfaction with organisations systems which resulted in a three fold increase in employee turnover. In one case example four workers announced their resignation in the same week. They were last seen heading for the Dartford Crossing on motorcycles.

‘The Final Countdown’ – Europe – This was another strange song to find on this list as the inspiring beat and memorable introduction sounded like this would be a guaranteed motivator. Unfortunately Evesham found the opposite. People reported feeling negative as their brain processed the hidden messages in the track. Apparently if the track is played at a quarter speed the words ‘It is the final countdown – leave the sinking ship’ can be clearly heard. There were also reports of problems of dress code violation where this songs was played as well as excessive hair growth. Evesham tried ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ as an alternative but again picked up reports of subliminal messaging. Some users reported hearing the words ‘don’t believe a word – you are in fact a loser with zero personality’ if you speeded the track three fold but this has not been confirmed. As a result, Evesham recommends organisations steer clear of tracks from this era and this particular genre,

Overall a fascinating study. There are many other elements in the report. The chapter on ‘Mozart and the death of creativity’ is worth a read. The chapter on ‘Jazz, lateral thinking and wishful thinking’ has some interesting (although complex) conclusions. The section on ‘Country Music and the corporate line dance’ has some great ideas for employee engagement.  If you would like a full copy of the report we will be happy to send you one. Drop an email to or go to the University website.


Published 1/4/2014