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Wearing Headphones in the Office – Acceptable or Not?

Wearing Headphones in the Office – Acceptable or Not?
26 June 2020
 

Working in headphones is the norm for many individuals and industries, but others feel that it shuts down communication and prevents true collaborative thinking.

Headphones at work can be a contentious topic, with some believing it to be essential to concentration and productivity, and others seeing it as indicative of a too informal or laid back culture. 

For some, working from home has been a new experience, and has perhaps provided them with the first opportunity to use headphones to listen to music or podcasts whilst working.

With much of the traditional office etiquette on-hold in our temporary home offices, should employers look to retain and encourage some of these newer ways of working? Let’s take a look at some varying perspectives from within FM.

 

The Recruiter

 

“An FM professional is a change champion, a problem solver, and as such they need to be available at all times to their stakeholders. There are obviously situations where wearing headphones whilst working is fine (writing a report in an individual closed office for example), however generally we would advise against it.”

– Peter Forshaw

Managing Director, Maxwell Stephens

 

 

According to Peter Forshaw, Managing Director of specialist recruiter Maxwell Stephens, it’s difficult to provide an objective answer to the question “is it acceptable to wear headphones at work”, due to the huge diversity in personal perceptions on the matter:

Some individuals see absolutely no issue in wearing headphones whilst working, citing that they aid concentration and significantly increase productivity; whereas some people perceive wearing headphones in the workplace to be a major office-etiquette offence.”

Forshaw argues that, when it comes to the facilities management industry, wearing headphones in the workplace is likely to create a few issues:

“Now more than ever, FM professionals need to be communicative. Although it may not be the wearer’s intention, headphones can quickly shut down potential lines of communication.

“An FM professional is a change champion, a problem solver, and as such they need to be available at all times to their stakeholders. There are obviously situations where wearing headphones whilst working is fine (writing a report in an individual closed office for example), however generally we would advise against it.”

 

The Wellness Expert

 

“At a time of great upheaval and uncertainty in the working world, organisations should encourage employees to do anything they can to increase their happiness and productivity."

–David Hylton

Wellness Consultant, Sitemark

David Hylton, Wellness Consultant for Sitemark has found that employees of Sitemark’s clients from across the FM sector have found listening to music whilst working relaxing and helpful:

“At a time of great upheaval and uncertainty in the working world, organisations should encourage employees to do anything they can to increase their happiness and productivity.

“The challenge for businesses now is how to maintain this new flexibility as employees return to the workplace. Using headphones in the workplace may not be appropriate for a number of reasons. There are health and safety issues because it can make employees unaware of their surroundings, while it may also be perceived as anti-social in some settings.

“Organisations need to balance this with the positive effects it can bring to staff. Business leaders should talk to employees and managers to find a solution that suits all parties.”

 

The Health And Safety Practitioner

 

Louise Hosking, a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner and Managing Director of Hosking Associates, feels that if headphones are causing conflict within the workplace, employers should undertake a risk assessment with teams so everyone understands when wearing headphones is appropriate, and when it is not.

She commented: “If there is a risk to safety, for example hearing an alarm or working in a high hazard situation, headphone-wearing is not appropriate. If teams understand that we all work differently, then any conflicts with each other can be resolved.

“The way we all focus is different. Some appreciate background noise, and some prefer quiet. There are multiple distractions in a modern work environment. Most offices are open plan and seeing colleagues in headphones is common.” 

Picture: A photograph of a person working at a computer wearing headphones

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 26 June 2020

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