Should headphones be allowed at work?

Employees are demanding more from their offices and in the effort to promote wellness in the workplace, employers are considering what exactly does make their staff happy.

The question ‘should headphones be allowed at work?’ can instantly divide opinions.

There are obviously a variety of elements that need to be thought about; for instance, a large factor depends on the industry employees are working in, and whether it is safe to wear headphones at work.

Should headphones be allowed in the workplace?

For some, it’s a worthy investment: Research confirms that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. However, it’s not a simple formula (1 x employee wearing headphones = happy worker) so when questioning whether headphones should be allowed at work, it’s important to consider the positives and negatives of wearing headphones in the workspace:


  • Enables employee focus. Whether it’s their preferred music genre, instrumental or simply white noise, many workers choose to block out surrounding conversations and ringing phones by wearing headphones.

  • Provides an invisible ‘do not disturb’ sign. Wearing headphones, even without listening to music, can signify that you are concentrating and do not want to be disturbed. It can also be a deterrent to those that are more inclined to chat to you and cause a distraction.

  • Helps de-stress. Music can lift people’s spirits. So, if someone is feeling overwhelmed and under pressure, listening to music is often a way of unwinding to allow them to get back to their natural state of work.

  • Makes monotonous work tolerable. Many people do repetitive tasks that don’t need creative thought, so having music helps keep spirits high.

There are many positives to wearing headphones at work


  • Creates a barrier. Headphone wearers prevent impromptu conversations and quick collaboration, which can be damaging to intra-work relationships.

  • Could be dangerous. If you’ve got music playing in your ears, you’re less likely to hear health and safety hazards such as a fire alarm, a colleague choking, or unwanted guests walking in to the office.

  • Unwanted noise. It can be quite irritating for those around headphone wearers if the volume has been turned up excessively. If someone has cheap headphones, then colleagues are more likely to hear exactly what you’re listening to – or a slightly tinnier version.

  • Distracts from the task at hand. There is evidence to suggest that multitasking lowers the focus of each individual task at hand, so listening to music could end up reducing productivity.

Many offices are implementing modular acoustic rooms, not just for meetings, but also as a refuge from noisy open plan working environments. If these are in use, and without an agile working interior design, employees may be limited to where they can seek a quiet space. This presents an argument for headphones to block out surrounding sounds.

Modular acoustic rooms are great for private working areas

One way to manage any knock-on effect of acoustic complexities is to consider digital sound masking, a process of adding a low level of unobtrusive background sound engineered to reduce distractions by muffling speech and unwanted sounds.

Simpler still are acoustic panels and ceiling slats, designed to mitigate sound reflection and reduce reverberation.


Essentially the final decision will be decided by senior management, whether they are willing to consider that music can improve workers’ productivity but also demonstrate trust in productivity outputs remaining the same.

Perhaps compromises can be made, and an office etiquette can be in place where if you are in a public facing role, then headphones are not to be worn when in view of the public.

Or if you are wearing earbuds, then the connotation is that when wearing one earbud you are open to communication but if both are in then you require space for full concentration.

Woman wearing headphones

Essentially it all comes down to choice.

People like to make decisions based on what will work best for them, so whether employers do or do not allow headphones to be worn, it’s important to consider how this comes across to employees in terms of freedom of choice.

Effective productivity of people wearing headphones can be measured on an individual or collective basis, but whilst that takes time there is a quicker solution to any acoustic concerns.

Businesses including Autotrader, Tangle Teezer, and CBRE are just some of the many companies Creatif has helped counterbalance noise pollution in a functional and aesthetically pleasing way.

Acoustically comfortable working environment

To explore further office insights, check out the 5 ways smart office can improve wellbeing and 9 facts the workplace can learn from bees. For a quick discussion on how acoustic design will benefit your workspace, get in touch with Creatif on 0113 270 1239.