Issues The advent of MP3 players, satellite radio and Internet-based music makes it easy to rock and roll at work.
Risks: Such distractions can reduceand even create legal risks.
Action: Establish a music/noise policy before it becomes a problem.
Some employees can quietly listen to music in their cubicles with no disruption to co-workers or damage to their productivity. But with the explosion of new kinds of media outlets—such as iPods, Internet music and satellite radio like Sirius and XM—people can now listen to what they want, when they want and where they want.
Some employers see these ubiquitous music machines as PDDs, or portable distraction devices, that can become major productivity killers and even potential legal risks.
Legal liability could arise if an employee streams in offensive material, such as Howard Stern uncensored on Sirius or no-holds-barred rap music played via XM radio. (Both Sirius and XM allow subscribers to listen to programming over the Internet, so no receivers are needed.)
If you do nothing, you risk complaints from other employees who might not share their colleagues'musical tastes or, worse yet, are offended by vulgar radio hosts or racist music lyrics. Employees could claim a hostile work environment because you failed to put limits on such hostile background sound. (It's the oral equivalent of someone being offended by seeing porn on a co-worker's computer screen.)
Advice: Now's the time to consider your need for a music or noise policy. It's best to set such policies before you encounter problems, so your directive won't appear to be retaliation against one troublemaker.
The easiest policy is to prohibit all aural media sources in the workplace or for certain jobs. Another option is to focus on the issue as a "noise policy," rather than a music policy, by requiring employees to keep the volume down on their speaking as well as on all forms of media.
Another option is to outlaw any offensive media content, and clarify that HR and supervisors have the right to make those determinations.
Embracing the iPod
Some employers are going the opposite way on this trend.
Example 1: Bayer Material Sciences recently lifted its 35-year ban on music in its control rooms, according to Occupational Hazard magazine. The company's previous policy was based on the belief that music would be a distraction, but it cited recent research that says music, within limits, can actually stimulate productivity.
Example 2: A small publishing company in Arizona recently bought iPods for employees as a reward for meeting company goals. According to the company's HR director, "The headphones allow people to listen to their own choice of music without disturbing or offending other employees ... It works great for our editorial department because it tunes out other office distractions."