Sound – You can affect buying habits


productivity by controlling noise


Close your eyes and listen to the sound of your workplace. What do you hear?
It could be stark echoes. Or noise from the service department. Maybe it’s a radio blaring from someone’s office. Or a conversation between two coworkers trading recipes.
Whether yours is a retail establishment, manufacturing facility, or office space, sound — or the lack of it — can greatly affect the mood, pace, concentration, and overall perception of your workplace.
Annoying sounds can be an irritant. Some folks may mentally block out the noise, but it can still slow their productivity and add to stress.
Workspace that is deadly quiet can also be unsettling. Every little noise then becomes conspicuous, magnified, even disturbing.
Here are a few ideas for creating a comfortable and stimulating sound environment.
1. Reduce harsh or loud noise
If an adjoining department is the source of repetitive or unusual noise, soundproof the wall between the work areas. If you want your supervisor to be able to watch the area, put a small double-pane window in the wall.
2. Eliminate echoes and reverberations
Add some acoustic tile to the ceiling or walls to absorb sound. Installing carpet or hanging banners can also help.
3. Add background sound

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  • Low volume "white noise," the sound of wind or waves, can be used to eliminate silence. This can help reduce eavesdropping between cubicles. Listeners may not even notice it until it’s turned off.
  • Mood music is the best background of all. Fast tempos can increase activity levels. Slow tempos can make customers linger.
  • If yours is a retail establishment, consider how you want your customers to feel while they’re in your store. Use faster tempos to get shoppers in and out quickly; slower tempos to cause them to hang around, maybe make an extra purchase.
    The lack of sound, or noise irritants, may cause customers to be turned off to the point they delay their purchases, or cut short their visits entirely.
    In a manufacturing facility, alter the music periodically to increase productivity.
    At an apparel factory I once operated, we boosted productivity by playing a variety of musical styles and tempos, from classical to pop to Broadway show tunes.
    What we found was interesting. We played up-tempo music on the sewing floor and watched initial productivity increase over 20%. After a few weeks, productivity began to decline, so we tried slowing the music’s pace, and productivity again improved. When production began dipping once more, we altered the pace, and productivity again improved.
    We realized that changing the pace of the piped-in music increased productivity. Our workers responded because they believed management was paying attention to them, cared enough to entertain them while they worked, no matter what the pace or style of music.
    If yours is an office environment, the issue may be more complex.
    William Shakespeare said, "Music oft hath such a charm." He might have known something back then that scientists and researchers are just discovering today: a connection between music and the mind, with important implications for learning and productivity in the office.
    When General George Squier, former chief of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, founded Muzak, Inc., in 1934, he believed that music could improve worker productivity. His canned music of popular tunes has become ubiquitous in workplaces, elevators, and dentist offices throughout the world.
    More recently, psychologists and neurologists began to study the effects of music on worker productivity. They discovered that the brain seems to use different frequency patterns to coordinate various processes.
    The most dramatic instance of the direct psychological effect of music was in research performed at the University of California at Irvine in 1993. Their study found that college students performed better on certain math tests immediately after listening to classical music. Those listening to Mozart performed best of all.
    Does that mean we should all listen to "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik" at work? The brain experts say no. They point out the importance of "musical space," the ability to work to the beat of a different drummer, so to speak. A more varied approach may be needed, giving employees the flexibility to select and play their own music. Mozart for some, Limp Bizkit for others.
    So next time you lean back and pop in a CD, you won’t just be unwinding. You may be boosting your productivity, too.

    Robert Grede, author of Naked Marketing – The Bare Essentials (Prentice Hall), is an adjunct professor at Marquette University and president of The Grede Company consultants. Read his books online at

    February 1, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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