Ask any business owner and you'll learn that our biggest challenge this year is not only finding good people but also (and more importantly) keeping them productive and profitable. How to do this? Lots of experts will offer up plenty of ideas. Pay them more. Give more time off. Let them work from home. Throw a party. Promote teamwork. But researchers at Cornell University may have round a better way: just play upbeat music.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review this week, Kevin Kniffin and his colleagues Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink, and Bill Schulze have discovered something interesting: playing upbeat music in your office can make your employees more cooperative - and less self-interested.
Here's how they arrived at that conclusion.
They took a group of students and broke them into teams of three. Each student got 10 "tokens." For 20 rounds, the students could choose to keep the tokens or deposit them into a "team fund" which could be shared among themselves at the end of each round. The team contributions were multiplied by 1.5 so that for every 10 tokens contributed, 15 would be shared by the team. The other choice: keep your own tokens. No one knew how many rounds there would be. But everyone could see how much was being shared with the team.
So how often were these "tokens" shared with the team and how often did individuals hoard the booty for themselves? It all depended on the music that was played.
If it was "happy" music, like "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves or "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles more tokens were given up for the team. If the tunes were of a darker nature, like "Smokahontas," by Attack Attack! or "You Ain't No Family," by iwrestledabearonce more were kept by the individuals. The researchers also ran a third test where no music was played. Thankfully, and for the benefit and sanity of all members involved, no Justin Bieber music was used in this study.
The results were intriguing. When happy music was played people gave more to the team. When unhappy or no music was played people gave less to the team and kept more for themselves. The researchers thusly concluded that happier music produced a more co-operative effect.
Who cares? If you're a business owner you should.
Kniffen, who wrote the article, suggests that sound (as well as colors, lighting and smell) could have a positive effect on how a customer buys or an employee interacts in a retail setting. He believes that managers oftentimes overlook the importance of these external factors and how they impact the workplace. "To increase cooperation," he writes. "Teams could regularly play happy music during meetings or brainstorming sessions, a simpler and cost-effective alternative to traditional team-building exercises and off-site retreats. Although there's more research to be done, music represents a potentially valuable and inexpensive channel for improving performance in environments where cooperation is prized."
So take a look around your office. The common areas. The employee break room. The warehouse. The production floor. Places where people congregate and collaborate. Or where workers are doing important but repetitive tasks that require working with others. Put on some upbeat music where you can. You may just find that it makes your people happier and more productive too. Oh, and while you're at it you might as well update your employee handbook and add a "no-singing rule." Trust me - if that forklift guy sings one more verse of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" you're going to be forced to shut down the entire plant.