Should you allow workers to play music at their workstations? Should you have the radio on in the background for the whole office? Should you let your people use their iPods to get through the day?
Music at the office—or the shop floor, or the retail counter—has a long history and is often believed, with some evidence, to make people more satisfied and productive. In the past, getting people to agree on a music choice for the whole office, or to use proper etiquette when playing music at their desks, has been challenging. But managers and teams usually learn how to resolve such issues.
The advent of personal music players such as the iPod makes some of those challenges go away, but creates new ones. If your workgroup functions on frequent interaction, then allowing people to hide behind their headphones can create a real change in your team dynamic. A good practice is to walk around and call out to people in a normal voice. If they can't hear you, tell them to turn down their music.
But remember that young workers who seem to be surgically attached to their iPods are used to wearing them while doing other daily activities and even having conversations with each other. If they're not paying attention or focusing on their work, it's probably not the headphones' fault.