From the many interviews we’ve done with lab professionals over the years, one common aspect that keeps popping up is the importance of keeping things light in the lab in order to reduce stress and strengthen team bonds. Music is one way to grow that stress-free atmosphere in the lab, though some rules do apply, according to the lab professionals we reached out to.
Recently, one of the winners of a $50 Amazon gift card in our monthly draw said that the prize would “be spent on music for the lab and [be] enjoyed by all” and that got us curious about the rest of our readers and what they think of music in their labs. We contacted our audience on Twitter and Facebook and found that most were in support of music in the workplace, even if they didn’t always like listening to it themselves.
“I work in a microbiology lab with about eighteen MTs and technicians–all of us but two enjoy having the radio on when the workload allows it,” said Sherri Danley, microbiology supervisor in the laboratory services department at CoxHealth. “Most of us can agree on a couple of local stations [and] some of the techs often wear one ear bud which is allowed when working at a bench.”
While Applied Food Technologies lab director Barbara J. Carter isn’t a fan of music when working, her lab’s policy allows technicians to listen to music at their desks as long as it doesn’t bother other workers.
“I personally find music in the lab to be distracting so I don’t listen to it,” she said. “And when I get really focused, I can cut out all the background noise anyway.”
What our Facebook fans had to say:
She added that there are some minimal restrictions on music use in her lab, so that staff aren’t completely in their own musical world while working.
“If they are using a portable device, they may use one headphone/ear bud so that they can hear us if we need to get their attention,” Carter explained. “It does not seem to be a problem, and it does not seem to be generational either, as some of our more mature workers also like to listen to music.”
Thomas Jasper, the pathology supervisor at Deaconess Hospital, is a big supporter of music in his lab, though he noted differing musical tastes can cause issues.
“I am a firm believer in music in labs,” he said. “Most people like it, which makes for a happier workplace, but taste is subjective so this can be a challenge.”
However, he said that people he’s worked with throughout his career often find easy enough solutions to this problem, such as splitting the day between radio stations. He added that tensions over differing musical taste are usually signs of larger organizational issues.
“People usually manage to compromise,” Jasper said. “I’ve heard of the occasional ‘radio war’ over what’s playing–to me, a ‘radio war’ likely indicates deeper problems to address.”
Overall, Jasper feels that labs that don’t allow music create a more uptight environment that’s more difficult to work in.
“I once worked in a facility where some labs allowed music and some did not. This was not good,” he said. “The ‘no-music’ labs had higher levels of tension and, ironically enough, the ‘no-music’ labs were created to be less stressful. The staff I currently have listen to whatever they want and they all get along. I’m not a fan of what they like, but in my office I play a wide variety of music that’s good for my soul.”
One reader we corresponded with said he couldn’t listen to music when doing lab work because he found himself either singing along or playing a musical instrument in his mind, which distracted him from the task at hand.
It’s clear from reader response that music has a strong place in the lab, but that some limits are necessary to keep lab work flowing smoothly.
Just a sampling:
The folks at Polymer Solutions Incorporated let us know that their physical testing lab “typically has anything Green Day, Mumford & Sons, or Offspring playing” at any one time. They also shared their lab’s playlist with us: