According to a Harvard Business Reviewreport, most young people in the workforce wear headphones--and as a result, cut themselves off from their surrounding environment.
Anne Kreamer, author of the book It's Always Personal: Emotions in the New Workplace, conducted an informal survey, asking friends over 35 in a number of different work environments who wore headphones. The answer was always the new kids. While Kreamer agrees that headphones are a great way to cut out the screaming baby at a local coffee shop while you’re working on a deadline remotely, they can also isolate workers from one another when in the office and ultimately stifle creation.
“If an employee is glued to her desk with headphones on, immersed in music and G-chatting with her best buddy, she is missing the opportunity to create relationships with people on the job who might be launching a project for which she'd be perfect, or who's kicking around the idea to launch a new firm that needs precisely her talents,” Kreamer writes. “It's a huge and real loss in terms of career development.”
Some young workers argued with Kreamer that when someone needs their attention, that person makes it known--either by tapping them on the shoulder or waving at them. But, Kreamer counters, that only happens when the issue is urgent. What about the side conversations that could present new career opportunities?
“As my interviews revealed, when we put on our headphones and fire up our messenger client of choice,” Kreamer wrote. “We effectively make ourselves remote telecommuters even when we are physically present.”
Although it may save time or money to create what a Wall Street Journalarticle calls the “officeless office,” Kreamer believes the losses outweigh the savings. Zoning out to get work done (including limiting office banter and using headphones) comes at a cost--innovation. As most young employees become accustomed to the multi-screen, multi-task work environment, they make themselves unavailable to everything outside of their headphones/laptop bubble. Kreamer admits that a “no headphones” office rule is probably out of reach for most, but urges business owners to introduce small events that will connect the office.
“Create working environments that encourage physical interaction," writes Kreamer. "Have small lunches that cut across hierarchical levels; include people who tend to shy away from group activities to participate in the softball team or fantasy football or Oscar pools.”
MAEGHAN OUIMET is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in Boston Magazine and Rolling Stone. She covers technology start-ups and innovations from the San Francisco bureau for Inc.com. @MaeghanO