Should headphones be banned at work?

The workplace environment and work task must be considered when contemplating this decision

Should headphones be banned at work?

At Xero, it’s important for employees to be able to do the best work of their lives, according to Rebecca Gravestock, Director of People and Performance, Xero Australia and Asia.

Consequently, Xero aims to create a flexible environment where employees decide for themselves whether using headphones is helpful.

Gravestock told HRD that certain roles and environments will be more conducive to using headphones than others, but some people believe they help improve focus and help remove distractions. 

“Ultimately, we want to create an environment of trust where our employees feel safe and empowered to work in the most effective way for themselves and their team, so I don't believe in setting a blanket rule around headphones."

For Gillian Davie, Chief People Officer, NetComm Wireless, it’s important to consider whether or not the workplace is customer-facing.

Imagine a shop assistant with music blasting through their headphones:  Does the workplace have audible safety alerts? 

“Warehouses have forklifts busily going up and down aisles. A safety precaution is the sounding of the forklift horn when coming around a corner,” said Davie. 

“It’s not appropriate for anyone on that warehouse floor to have headphones with music.”

However, for a creative team member who is in design phase in an office it might be appropriate (as long as they could hear a fire alarm).

Therefore, the environment and work task must be considered when contemplating this decision, added Davie.

Wendy Born, author of The Languages of Leadership, added that in today’s low attention span world, maintaining focus can be difficult. 

According to Born, an office worker focuses for 11 continuous minutes before getting distracted and on average the brain needs about 25 minutes to get back to the original task. 

“Multiply that by the number of times interruptions occur every day and it’s clear that a significant amount of time, money, and productivity is lost.  Music can be a great motivator, increasing energy, and elevating mood,” said Born. 

“Allowing employees to use their headphones at work can provide an easy mechanism to avoid distraction, stay focused, and be more productive. Happy employees equal happy customers.”

There will be further HR insights from Xero at the upcoming HR Summit Melbourne. To register, click here.

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