Healthy Business Blog

May
29

How music at work makes us better

Friday, 29 May 2020 by the Southern Cross team

Whether you love it or hate it, one thing seems certain: music in the workplace is here to stay. 

We’ve been working to music since the dawn of time - from singing in the fields to surgeons operating to Vivaldi. And millennials are only amplifying this (no pun-intended) with one survey showing that on any given day they listen to 75.1% more music than boomers.1

While there’s plenty to be said about how music can help or hinder productivity, it’s also worth considering just how music can aid our wellbeing in the workplace.

Music can motivate you

Music finds a happy dance partner in an area of your brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is central to how we process rewards. 

Music activates this area which triggers the release of dopamine - the pleasure chemical, which encourages us to repeat what we just did. 

In this case, if you’re enjoying listening to music while you work, you become more motivated to continue both listening and working.2

Music can reduce stress

Businesses report an increase in stress and anxiety levels in workplaces around New Zealand.3 Listening to music can reduce levels of cortisol in the body - the stress hormone. One study even showed listening to music before surgery was more effective than prescription drugs in reducing stress (and you would hope your average workday is less traumatic than going under the knife).4

Listening to music has also been shown to help you recover faster from stressful work.5 

Music can help your immune system

Music can help heal a broken heart, and much more. Studies show that people who listen to music had higher levels of the antibody Immunoglobulin A, which helps prevent infections, and a type of immune cell called ‘Natural Killer Cells’. These cells attack bacteria, infected cells and cancerous cells.6

Music can aid memory

Music can aid recall. It activates an overlapping part of our brain network that triggers your emotions, memory, attention and imagery.7 As one memory expert, Dr Henry L. Roediger, explains it, getting memories into your head is the easy part. Pulling them out is where it gets tricky and music, with its underlying structure, can provide a key to unlocking the information stored there.8

One last note of caution

For all its benefits, music can also have negative impacts. Annoying repetitive music (think of endless rotations of Christmas songs in retail environments) can be harmful to your team. As Dr Rhona Freeman, a clinical neuropsychologist explains, “If you don’t want to hear a song, or are hearing it on repeat for three hours (with no say in the matter), your prefrontal cortex is working hard to filter it out so you can focus".9  In other words, it becomes noise and that’s not good. According to the WHO, noise pollution can contribute to stress, poor concentration, fatigue and even cardiovascular disease.10

So, if one of your team asks to change the music or to turn down the volume, take them seriously. Get everyone together and listen to each other’s ideas on what will work in your workplace. After all, listening is at the very heart of experiencing music. 

Want to learn more about how music can help productivity in the workplace? Check out “What music makes productivity rock?” or “Play it safe with headphones” in the Healthy Business Blog.


  1. Resnikoff, P. (2016, June 2). Millennials Listen to 75% More Music Than Baby Boomers, Study Finds. Retrieved from https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2016/06/02/millennials-listen-more-music-baby-boomers/
  2. Mavridis I. N. (2015). Music and the nucleus accumbens. Surgical and radiologic anatomy : SRA, 37(2), 121–125. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00276-014-1360-0
  3. (2019, August 1). 2019-Workplace-Wellness-Report.pdf. Retrieved from https://www.weavatools.com/apis/pdfstorage/-M7oRMN4RsCcaEPzNdK6
  4. Chanda, M. L.; Levitin, D. J. (n.d.). The neurochemistry of music - Neurochemistry of music.pdf. Retrieved from http://www.downloads.imune.net/medicalbooks/Neurochemistry of music.pdf
  5. Thoma, M. V., La Marca, R., Brönnimann, R., Finkel, L., Ehlert, U., & Nater, U. M. (2013). The effect of music on the human stress response. PloS one, 8(8), e70156. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0070156
  6. Chanda, M. L., & Levitin, D. J. (n.d.). The neurochemistry of music - Neurochemistry of music.pdf. Retrieved from http://www.downloads.imune.net/medicalbooks/Neurochemistry of music.pdf
  7. Janke, L. (2008). Music, memory and emotion. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776393/
  8. Heidi Mitchell. (2013, December 13). Why Does Music Aid in Memorization? - WSJ. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-does-music-aid-in-memorization-1388458293
  9. Spector, N. (2017, November 27). Does Christmas music turn you into the Grinch? Your brain (and health) on Christmas carols. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-christmas-music-has-profound-impact-our-mental-health-ncna822566
  10. World Health Organisation. (2011). Burden of disease from environmental noise : Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe - e94888.pdf. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/quantifyingehimpacts/publications/e94888.pdf

Return to the Healthy business blog