If you are Gen X or Millennial, and certainly if you are Gen Z, you may never have been outside the range of urban noise. Traffic, electronics, construction—they’re everywhere. In fact, most of us live above the 75-decibel noise level health experts recommend. Even average noise levels in our homes easily reach 90 decibels. Meanwhile out in the wild, nature is getting drowned out. In nearly two-thirds of US national parks, airplanes, cars mining and drilling are regularly twice the volume of natural background noise.
Enter the Ear Bud
All that background noise causes stress, so it’s no wonder that younger generations turn to music more often than older generations to smooth the rough edges of the day. (Millennials listen to 75% more music than Baby Boomers do.) Overall, the effect is soothing. Music produces the same pleasurable release of dopamine as eating fine food or looking at a beautiful piece of art. It can soothe our disposition, improve our mood and keep us from zoning out during tedious tasks.
So what about generations who show up for work with Beats in place? Are they onto something? Probably.
After all, the office can be noisy, too. Disruptions and intrusions cut productivity when we need to buckle down and focus during crunch time. Music not only improves focus, it helps us become better decision-makers, especially if we favor atmospheric music, soundtracks or tunes with sparse vocals.
New Rules for a Noisy World
Like so many generational challenges, the ear bud dynamic is a balancing act.
If you work with headphones:
Don’t bury yourself behind a sonic wall and tune co-workers out. Like it or not, there is sill stigma about headphones at work. Folks may assume you have chosen to make yourself unavailable, and they may not realize music improves your performance. Figure out how to remain open for conversation. Maybe that means talking with others about how you don’t mind being interrupted when they need your attention.
If you don’t get the headphone thing:
Don't take it personally. The purpose of music in the ear is not to tune you out, it’s to tune in on the work. Different generations have grown up with different levels of noise and distraction, and we’ve all had to learn to focus in different ways. On the other hand, don’t consider headphones a “do not disturb” sign. Co-workers are listening to music more at work, but they're also listening to you.
Do you use earbuds? How do you keep the converstion going?