Headphones might be a good way to focus on the work in front of you, but other important stuff is getting lost while we listen.
Are you prone to slipping on a pair of headphones at the office?
Let me guess, you think headphones help you focus on your work and make you less likely to get distracted, right?
Listening to tunes at work might be a good way to zero in on the task at hand, but it removes you from “informal office life,” harms your ability to learn on the job and reduces the opportunity to make important connections, according to the writer Anne Kreamer, who was the worldwide creative director for Nickelodean in the ’90s.
She points to the account of one young professional who said when co-workers want to talk, they’ll send a deliberate signal. “I’ve never missed something urgent, usually just part of a conversation that was going on in the office,” the young worker said.
And that’s where Kreamer has a problem. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, she writes:
Precisely. It’s just that kind of loss of daily osmotic information exchange and collaborative bonding that ought to concern 21st century employees and employers. It’s about information exchange, resource exchange, idea generation and on and on. If an employee is glued to her desk with headphones on, immersed in music and G-chatting with her best buddy, she is missing the opportunity to create relationships with people on the job who might be launching a project for which she’d be perfect, or who’s kicking around the idea to launch a new firm that needs precisely her talents. It’s a huge and real loss in terms of career development.
Organizations also lose out on the opportunity to tap into fresh ideas, she writes:
Because actionable cultural knowledge is now so diffuse, to remain competitive companies need all employees to bring fresh thinking into the workplace. Imagine an employee who happened, say, to be the roommate of someone launching a startup in 2010, and missed out on overhearing a colleague ask if “anyone knows anything about this new app that colorizes photographs so they look old-fashioned” — extreme, yes, but even short of missing out on an early partnership with Instagram, every company must be configured to into tap a workforce’s collective informal knowledge base as much as possible.
So what’s a modern employee to do — especially if you’re in an open plan office and your neighbor is munching on chips while you’re crashing on a report for your boss?
Kreamer says “employees and organizations should be helped to understand what’s being lost in the process of mindless, unplanned mass capitulation to the machines.” That means creating company cultures that “encourage physical interaction” through intimate lunches or group activities like an Oscar pool. And yep, it probably means taking off your headphones — at least some of the time.
Do you agree? Are you missing out by listening to your headphones?