Is Working with Background Noise Helpful or Harmful?

November 12, 2014 • Rehack Team


When I was in college, I had a roommate who loved to blast loud music while studying. I couldn’t understand how she could get anything done, but she succeeded. Some people just seem to work better and be more productive with some background noise, even as adults in the workplace.

Of course, you’ll most likely never hear anyone in your office blasting tunes at the decibel level of my former roommate, but many of us find that background noise can help boost creativity and make work seem like less of a chore.

Unfortunately for some of us, background noise serves as a distraction, making it difficult to fully concentrate on the task at hand. It’s a surefire way to put a damper on productivity.

So, is background noise helpful or harmful? Can it help you get more things done, or does it hold you back? There are numerous studies of how background noise affects our productivity. Learn more about it, and make the best choice for you.

Background Noise Benefits

Think about soft music playing in the background while you’re at your computer working on a project. How does it make you feel?

Quite possibly, it will help to increase your productivity by putting you in a positive state of mind, according to a 2005 study. In this study, computer information systems developers reported positive mood changes and enhanced job performance while music was playing.

To reap the benefits of background music, it’s best if it’s wordless, so you are not too stimulated and tempted to sing along. Also, make sure it’s music you enjoy, whether classical or techno. Try playing your tunes at different tempos — slower music tends to be soothing and calming, while faster-paced songs are energizing.

If music is too distracting and you can’t handle total silence, try listening to white noise or nature sounds. These sounds are both soothing and nonintrusive, which will help you to relax and be more productive.

Background Noise Drawbacks

It’s one thing to have soft and nonintrusive background noise; it’s another to have background noise that’s, well, noisy. Loud and distracting background noise has been shown to increase our stress levels, according to a Journal of Applied Psychology study.

In this study, clerical workers were split into two groups — one was exposed for three hours to typical office noises, and the other was exposed to nothing but silence. The group in the noisy environment had higher levels of stress hormones and had difficulty completing mentally challenging tasks that were assigned to them. In fact, a higher error level on those tasks was found for that group.

In essence, distracting noises that pull our attention from our tasks can have a negative effect on our job performance and productivity. Droning TVs in the background, construction noise on city streets, lawnmowers in the summer — these are all things that can increase our stress and make working harder.

A Happy Medium

Only you can decide whether or not background noise is helpful or harmful to your productivity. If you need some noise to help you work, find what works best for you, whether it’s quiet or upbeat. Perhaps a machine that plays rainfall or waves crashing on a beach can help you out of a noisy and distracting work environment.

If you’re stuck in a noisy environment, find some ways to relieve that stress. Seek out a quiet retreat, whether it’s an unused conference room or a walk to a nearby library or bookstore. Taking some time to exercise or meditate can also help decrease stress levels and soothe your soul in the process.

Background noise can be helpful or harmful; you just need to find your own happy medium and make it work for you. This will help boost your productivity and say goodbye to stress.