How Does Holiday Music Affect Employees at Work?

Like decorations, holiday music in the workplace has its pros and cons.

Workers can be more productive and may have better morale when they listen to music at work, according to research. This is true whether they work in office or retail settings, where music may be broadcast for customers as well as employees. 

But what about holiday music, which is often played repetitively during the last month or two of the year? Does hearing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" over and over again help employees in the same way as other music at work — or does it just irritate them? 

Consider this comment from a supermarket worker, cited by music psychologist Anneli Haake in a recent article:  

"At Christmas we get the same three Christmas CDs over and over for the full 9 hour shift ... Torture! I'm sure there's a human rights cruelty issue here." 

Haake says workers need to be able to choose tunes or have a way to avoid ones they don't like. In some workplaces, employees can play their own music at work. But in others, music is played for everyone to hear, which can present problems. 

"Having to listen to imposed music — without any control over it — can be detrimental to employees," Haake writes. This can leave workers irritated and stressed.  

Here are some tips on handling holiday music in ways that positively impact your employees, leaving them energized and engaged rather than annoyed and turned-off.

1. Ease up on the overload

Retailers from Starbucks to H&M have been lessening the amount of holiday music in their mix lately, "largely in response to the love-it-or-hate-it relationship most people have with seasonal tunes," reports the San Diego Tribune. Stores are cutting back to a mix of 25-50% holiday music, rather than 75-100% as in years past. 

If customers are less than thrilled with a heavy dose of sometimes-polarizing holiday music during shopping visits, it's easy to see that employees — who must listen all shift long — might feel the same way, too. Just because it's December doesn't mean your music at work has to be entirely holiday-themed.

2. Consider going lyric-free

A recent study by Taiwanese researchers found that lyrics in music were distracting. Instrumental music proved better for concentration. 

However, not all work is created equal. Immersive tasks or learning something new require different levels of concentration than work that's repetitive and clearly defined, says Gregory Ciotti in Fast Company. 

If your employees are doing focus-heavy work, then ditch lyric-intensive tunes in favor of relaxing instrumental versions of holiday songs. If the work doesn't require intense concentration, then lyrical music should be fine.

3.  Stick to the classics

Familiar music is also good for tasks requiring concentration, says Ciotti. When people know the words and music that are coming, the music becomes part of the background and they can focus better on their work. 

Tried-and-true holiday carols that everyone is likely to know might be better choices than brand-new arrangements. But this doesn't mean restricting your playlist to just a small, repetitive handful of standby seasonal tunes. Try to include a wide variety of songs. 

4. Be culturally sensitive

Religion is an element of many holiday songs. If your workplace includes people of differing faiths — or no faith — take care when choosing a holiday playlist. Employer Law Report suggests that employers avoid overly religious Christmas carols. After all, an offended employee is less likely to be a productive one.

Lorna Collier is a Chicago-area writer whose articles on business and technology have appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Intuit Small Business Blog, Workforce Management, Crain’s Chicago Business, CNN, US News, the Chicago Tribune, and others. Follow her @lornacollier.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author, publisher nor Triad Digital Media, LLC d/b/a Triad Retail Media warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.

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