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Turn It Up: Playing Happy Music in the Office Boosts Teamwork

Turn It Up: Playing Happy Music in the Office Boosts Teamwork
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Playing a little music in the office can have a positive impact on employee teamwork, new research finds.

The Cornell University study found that listening to happy, upbeat music encourages employees to make decisions that contribute to the good of the team. Kevin Kniffin, the study's lead author and a behavioral scientist at Cornell, said music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not.

"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," Kniffin said in a statement. "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."

For the study, researchers conducted two experiments to test the effect of music on the cooperative behavior of employees working in teams. [See Related Story: Want to Feel Powerful? Turn Up the Music]

In the experiments, participants were grouped in teams of three and given tokens to either contribute to the team's value or to keep for their personal use. During the experiment, the researchers played happy songs, such as "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison and "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves; music deemed unpleasant, which in this case included a variety of heavy metal songs; or no music at all.

The researchers found that participants contributed to the good of the team one-third more when happy, upbeat songs were played, compared with the unpleasant tunes or no music at all.

"We found significantly and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior by participants who were played happy music when compared with the other two conditions," the study's authors wrote.

Kniffin said the results indicate that playing some music and putting some thought into the types of songs played could result in happier employees and better teamwork.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site teambuilding exercises to build cooperation among employees," Kniffin said. "Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers."

Brian Wansink, one of the study's authors and the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said the study is another example of the impact music can have on people.

"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," Wansink said.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. The research was also co-authored by William Schulze, a professor at Cornell University, and Jubo Yan, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.