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Submitted by Tjmccormick on


I'm wondering if it is okay for an employee-- while on the clock--  to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, TV shows (audio only) or other spoken word content while doing their work?  We all handle some repetitious work on auto-pilot, like brushing our teeth, or vacuuming, mowing the lawn, or stuffing envelopes.  In these cases, I don't consider spoken-word audio a distraction. 

But if someone is doing analytical work or drafting a communication, or developing code, I wonder.  Is it even possible for us to give our best to the work when part of our attention is captured by the story-line fed into our ear buds?

How would you deal with this?  What are the principles and assumptions that back up your decision?

mercuryblue's picture
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No I don’t think you can both focus on a task that requires your brainpower AND follow a narrative through headphones. But I think you CAN successfully perform a task that requires your brainpower while listening to something through headphones - but you will have completely lost track of the narrative coming through the headphones.

I think the core principle is - is the person effective? Are they getting the outcomes you expect? In that case, let it go. 

(Unless there is a safety factor - eg no one should have headphones or earbuds while driving!). 

As well, how do you even know what they are listening to? At my workplace (we use Skype), headphones or earbuds can mean someone is on a call, listening to music, on a telco, listening to a webcast, or maybe listening to white noise or nothing at all while they try to screen out other distractions to focus on something. 

Some years ago I remember a cast or a comment about headphones at work basically saying “don’t”, but if I recall correctly, the reason was something like it looking completely unprofessional. At the time I agreed. Now, I work in a place where everyone from the CEO down is hot desking and there are no desk phones. Now, I will unapologetically use music or white noise to help me block out other conversations and focus - I think things have changed. (That said, I only play music which I know are calming for me. Eg No lyrics).

pucciot's picture
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This is a complicated matter and very situational.

I won't address all of your questions here -- only one thing that I insist my directs do _if_ we decide that wearing headphones are acceptable for them and their job.

Immediate Attentiveness !

If _anyone_ -  Supervisor, Leader, Administrator, Customer, or Co-Worker enters your workspace

I have full expectation that the person will :

* Quickly take off / out the headphones and place them on their lap or desk.

* Look that visitor straight in the eyes and smile

* Ask How you can help them and/or show complete attentiveness to what they are saying

* Answer their question will no looks or voice that would indicate annoyance at being interrupted 

* Wait until that person has left the area before putting the headphones back on.


These are behaviors that you can describe.  They are concrete and achievable.

Make this expectation clear - that these are the behaviors that will be expected to be seen each and every time.


Good Luck