Background Noise Decreases Performance at Work

If you’re like me, you enjoy multi-tasking while listening to music or watching TV. However, you might notice that sometimes that same background noise can be distracting, too.

For routine, or “busy” work that requires little thought or concentration, I find music to be a great performance enhancer. It has a positive effect on my mood and energy level that allows me to get stuff done. But when it comes to completing more complex tasks (like writing this blog post), I find myself easily distracted, leading me to put down the headphones and subdue to the silence of my cubicle.

This leads to me to wonder, does background noise affect performance at work?music-at-work.jpg

According to an article I read, environmental noise such as background music, city sounds and office chatter, can lead to decreased performance at work.

Most of these noises can be tuned out easily, except one…

A study performed in 2011 revealed exposure to intermittent speech has the greatest impact on performance.

If you’re in your office now, take a listen. Can you hear any of your colleagues on the phone talking to customers? Or speaking to one another?

Intermittent speech hinders the way we perform cognitive tasks like staying attentive, reading text, or working with numbers. And unfortunately, it’s the most common source of ambient noise in offices.

Noisy-483x302.jpgSo, should you use music to drown out the sound of intermittent speech in your office?

A second study looked at the effects listening to background music has on performance. As I expected, the results varied depending on the type of task.

Music tends to have a positive effect on emotions and performance in sports, but a negative effect on reading. This supports what I have observed from my own experiences, but I imagine it affects everyone differently.

In another study, students showed worse memory recall when in the presence of white noise as compared to studying in silence. This was true for most of the students, except those who had a history of attention deficiency. These students actually performed better when noise was present.

So, I guess it depends on the type of worker you are…

quiet pleaseA lab in Glasgow conducted research to determine if noise affects cognitive performance in introverts differently than it does in extroverts.

Overall, the results proved most people perform better when they are in a quiet work environment. However, researchers found introverts struggled more than extroverts to overcome the distraction caused by background noise.

“They theorized that introverts, who are generally more easily overwhelmed by stimuli, are more sensitive to noise distractions.”

So, if you consider yourself an extrovert, or you have a good working memory, you might be able to remain productive in the presence of background noise.

You’d just probably get even more done if everything went quiet.

It’s not all bad though.

A study at the University of Illinois concluded that a moderate amount of noise may actually propel creativity.

As noise level increased, participants in the study had a more difficult time thinking. This led their ideas to be more abstract and creative. Of course, this was only true until a certain point at which the noise became too loud for even abstract work.

So, perhaps soft background music wouldn’t be so bad in a creative work environment or brainstorming session.

All in all, most research supports a negative stance towards working in noisy environments. Generally speaking, productivity is best in a quiet office setting.

Well, that wraps up this blog post! Learn more about noise safety, detection and protection at or give us a call!


(Puts headphones back in.)


RAECO is the premiere Midwest U.S. distributor for measurement, detection, and analysis instrumentation.

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