Using Headphones at Work in 2019 – Is This a Reflection on You?

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Whether it’s listening to music or zoning in on someone’s thoughts through a podcast, using headphones at work is becoming ever more common. But what message could they be sending to everyone else about you?

Walk into any workplace or office area and you’ll probably find at least a couple of people using their headphones at work.

This is proven by a recent survey from the audio visual enthusiasts forum AVS, which studied the use of headphones at work by gaining the opinions of over 800 people.

The results soon indicated that using headphones at work is no longer something determined by the type of space people work from, with 72% of those who work in an open-plan office admitting to wearing headphones at work at times.

Conversely, 66% of the participants who worked from closed off cubicles and more closed off spaces also commented that they did also, in fact, use their headphones at work.

What Type of Message is Using Headphones at Work Sending?

When noticing someone using headphones at work, it could be seen as a general perception that the message that person is trying to send is perhaps something along the lines of “Please leave me alone” or “I don’t want to talk to you right now”.

Interestingly, AVS’s study also took this into consideration, and tried to get to the crux of the exact perceptions that colleagues or a manager noticing someone wearing their headphones whilst working may have.

Here were the five main thoughts/opinions given by the survey participants on their immediate thoughts when spotting someone in their place of work wearing headphones.

“Please Leave Me Alone”

Beginning with the most popular of the opinions given, is that someone who was wearing headphones at work would likely be suggesting that they wished to be left alone.

As previously mentioned, this is the usual assumption that someone would be likely to make.

27% of those asked gave this as their honest opinion on what signal someone wearing headphones was trying to give them.

“I’m Focusing On The Task At Hand”

It might come as a surprise then, that ranking as the second most popular assumption given by the survey participants when noticing someone was wearing headphones in the workplace was that they were entirely focused on the task they were working on.

22% saw the use of headphones at work as having a more positive spin, rather than a negative one.

It could be suggested that studies based on some of the positive effects of music in the workplace may be the reason for this type of perception.

“I’m Too Busy to Talk Right Now”

On a similar slant to those who felt headphones use gave them the impression that the wearer wanted to be left alone, 17% believed using headphones would denote that someone is too busy to interact with them.

In a hectic workplace especially, it can be expected that conversations and emails can sometimes be cut short, so perhaps the point is further proven that deadlines are quickly approaching or urgent work matters are being attended to when we see someone using their headphones?

“I Enjoy Listening To My Favourite Bands and Artists While At Work”

Keeping things simple and obvious is something that came up during the survey, as 16% genuinely felt that seeing one of their colleagues or someone else wearing headphones in the office just meant that they enjoyed listening to their preferred music at work.

The type of music or the radio station being broadcast in a work environment is always a contentious issue, so could headphones at work just simply be a worker attempting to ‘cut out the middle man’ in order to keep their colleagues content with music choice rather than having any other ulterior motive.

“I’m Being Deliberately Rude or Pretentious”

Whilst this was the least given perception on what people saw when noticing someone wearing headphones at work, it could perhaps be the most damaging.

Being deliberately rude or ignorant in the workplace is likely going to cause conflicts and the idea of being pretentious or unjustly arrogant in the eyes of your peers can open a worker up to jealously and fractured relationships.

It’s not just closing off workers with the use of headphones that 9% felt aggrieved by however, as 33% confessed to wearing headphones at work without music or anything else playing, just to be able to listen in to private conversations or sensitive matters without being part of the interaction itself.

Closing Tips for Headphones at Work

Whatever the reason you may have for wearing headphones is, it’s important to still bear in mind the effect it might have on your co-workers and your manager. Some will perceive you as being too busy to talk, some might even think that you’re being deliberately rude or evasive.

At the same time, it could be the case that wearing headphones at work makes you seem more focused on your work or that you have a passion for music or for the words of others in podcast form.

Either way, it might perhaps be wise to implement a few guidelines when it comes to using your headphones in the workplace, such as limiting their use only during certain tasks or only using them at certain parts of the day.

After all, the workplace is an open environment and some conversations, could be worth your ears (and your time).

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Sam Rose

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