Music at work is good for cooperation: Study

by L&D25 Aug 2016
Many businesses choose to play music to attract customers. However, not many select songs with their employees in mind.  

If you are looking for a fast and cheap way to increase teamwork in the workplace, you might want to consider the upbeat sounds of Van Morrison’s "Brown Eyed Girl" or "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.

Indeed, happy music encourages people to make decisions that contribute to the good of the team, according to researchers at Cornell University.

The researchers tested the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behaviour of people working as a team.

The participants were grouped into teams of three and each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team's value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

The researchers chose the "Happy Days" theme song, "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles and "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.

They found that when happy, upbeat music was played team members were more likely to add to the group's value.

However, when "unpleasant music" was played (such as heavy metal songs by little-known bands) participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves.

The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

Moreover, when researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same.

"Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not," said Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral scientist at Cornell and lead author on the paper.

"Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it's very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions.

“Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they're listening to music that has a steady beat to it."

Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, added: "What's great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall."

The researchers recommend managers think about not only the customers when picking the day's music. It's important to consider the employees as well.

"Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site teambuilding exercises to build cooperation among employees," said Kniffin.

“Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers.”

The paper is published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior.