Music at work can be irritating for retail staff

Previous research into the effects of music on staff in the retail sector suggests:

  • 65% say music makes employees in the retail sector more productive
  • 75% believe that background music could help to relax and minimize awkward silences in workplaces

This is an interesting piece of research, as this is one of the first times that a study has focused on employees working in the retail sector – a gap in the research area of music in workplaces that I pointed out in my research on music listening in offices.

The study reports several positive effects of music, and these are similar to the functions of music in office environments:

  • Relaxation, reduction of stress
  • Configuring the auditory landscape (reducing silence)

Other positive effects of music listening at work, known from previous research are:

  • Avoiding boredom
  • Avoiding unwanted interruptions
  • Allowing employees a sense of freedom and identity marking

This is all very good. However, what also transpired from research into music listening in offices is that choice is a powerful aspect. Having to listen to imposed music – without any control over it – can be detrimental to employees. It is easier to choose your music in an office environment, but in a store where music is played through a PA system employees listen to the same music at the same time. If this music is disliked, it could cause irritation and stress for employees.

For example, one participant in my previous survey study on listening practices in offices also worked part-time in a large UK supermarket. He said:

At Christmas we get the same 3 Christmas CDs over and over for the full 9 hour shift… torture!! I’m sure there’s a human rights cruelty issue here…

The influence of music choice on employees is something that would need to be investigated further, and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that music is not always enjoyable among employees in the retail sector. Furthermore, we don’t yet know whether music actually makes employees in the retail sector more productive, or whether this is mainly a belief among business owners and managers.

Music listening is by no means a ‘magic pill’, or a perfect solution to problems with stress and staff morale in organisation. Yet, it is worth noting the positive effects that music listening can have at work.

This piece of research could provide a starting point for further research into how music affects the employees in retail environments. Effects on employees may indirectly influence customer behaviour and store spending positively, through customer service behaviour, mood and helpfulness. But if music affects employees negatively, there may also be other financial drawbacks, such as high staff turnover costs, low morale and effectiveness, high absenteeism through sickness, and other health issues.

By considering the beneficial effects of music at work, but also minimising the negative ones, music can continue to perform an important role in the everyday lives of employees throughout their working day.

Haake, A.B. (2011) Individual music listening in workplace settings: an exploratory survey of offices in the UK. Musicae Scientiae, 15 (1)

Haake, A.B. (2010). Music listening in UK offices: Balancing internal needs and external considerations. Doctoral thesis. Music Department, University of Sheffield, UK.

3 thoughts on “Music at work can be irritating for retail staff

  1. the music i listen to at work in a shopping centre usually 80 retro to modern pop with fairly emotional vioces, love lost to love found,good stuff to listen to when you have a choice, but all day ?
    by the end of the day my head is spinning, short of breath,literaly cannot consentrate ,i know this is the music that is causing it because i had short run working in a more upper class shopping centre where they played more classical and lite hearted rnb,almost unable to here unless ur in the toilets where it eccos. irritating no its driving me insane.

  2. Man working in McDonald’s is the main culprit for this topic. The music they play is diabolical! No musical sense, no flair. Just noise which really causes an earache towards staff and customers

  3. I hate music! My job has caused me to hate music! We are forced to listen to the same 10 (or so) songs over and over and over again, all day every single day! The songs aren’t even songs anybody has heard of and the singers are terrible. I believe they are all cover songs by people nobody knows.

    I hate going in to work. It has now started to make me depressed. As soon as I walk through those doors I want to walk back out because it’s so depressing.

    The songs have now become my earworms too. They invade my dreams and wake me up, they’re in my head all day even on my days off. I have no escape!

    I honestly believe we are being tortured!

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