The average full-time employee spends about one-third of their waking hours each week at work, contributing significantly to their mood and attitude. Employee stress and a business’s revenue are inversely related; an estimated $1 trillion is lost annually as a result of lost productivity due to anxiety, depression and stress.

So what’s the answer? Employers have the power to create a better work environment for their teams through the use of music. Playing the right background music at a restaurant, retail store, bank branch, or anywhere employees deal directly with the public can help reduce anxiety and improve productivity.

The COVID pandemic has put this opportunity into an even sharper focus. Prioritizing employee morale is now more critical than ever before.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Workplace

Over 80% of the US workforce reports suffering from job-related stress from factors such as poor communication, inability to aid in decision-making, boredom, lack of challenge in work, and excessive workload. Continued stress in the workplace frequently results in burn-out- an “occupational phenomenon” as classified by the World Health Organization. These factors have long-term effects on the psychological and physiological health of employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stress in the workplace, especially for essential businesses. Almost half of all Americans are struggling with issues related to burn-out as of June 2020. Even those who have not been directly affected by the novel coronavirus are experiencing new challenges in and out of the workplace. With social distancing resulting in a lack of human connection, financial insecurities, and fear of exposure to the virus, this “new normal” is anything but a pleasant reality. Just as businesses have found ways to pivot in compliance with new COVID-19 safety protocols, there are also ways to improve employee morale and productivity in these unprecedented times.

How Businesses Can Create a Positive Work Environment for Employees

Employers have the opportunity to create a positive, lower stress work environment for team members in the COVID age. Several proven solutions can help.

Implement the Right Background Music in the Workplace

Over 60% of employees who listened to background music at work reported being happier overall. This improved mood translated to their life outside of work. The introduction of music in a store, restaurant, or any other public-facing business can decrease stress and increase concentration for employees and put customers more at ease. Improved focus, creativity, and motivation for employees are additional benefits of music in the workplace. Music should be properly licensed for business and that there is a good selection of tracks to avoid repetition.

Promote Healthy Behaviors

Encouraging employees to engage in healthy habits such as exercise, meditation, music therapy, and a nutritious diet can help improve morale. There is a proven relationship between physical health and mood, therefore, reinforcing these physical actions can decrease stress levels. Businesses often see improvements when they offer an incentive program where employees can earn rewards for continued positive behaviors.

Increase Communication Pathways

Promote communication and transparency between employees and management. Encourage team members to bring ideas or feedback to those in management roles. Be empathetic to front-line workers experiencing greater stress due to the pandemic. This open communication pathway will allow employees the opportunity to be heard and contribute to the workplace, and allows businesses to find out about issues before they become larger problems.

How Does Music Affect the Brain?

Music has been utilized as a source of entertainment for tens of thousands of years. Since then, scientists have learned more about the powerful effects music has on the brain. Why do people feel so good when they hear their favorite song? Listening to music promotes the brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, one of the chemical messengers responsible for pleasure.

The brain treats melodies differently than other auditory input thanks to synchronized brain activity. By simultaneously stimulating numerous areas of the brain, music can improve memory, mood, and cognitive function. Listening to songs can even reduce perceived pain levels in patients suffering from chronic pain.

Music Therapy to Address Anxiety

Pumping up the jams is not only reserved for the gym, club, or hip retail stores – evidence supports the use of music in clinical settings to address anxiety. Music therapy is a non-invasive treatment method that has become increasingly popular over the last two decades. Examples of studied populations who have benefited from music therapy include those battling cancer, Alzheimer’s patients, individuals in substance recovery, military populations, and trauma survivors, among various other groups.

Data suggests that music can quickly reduce blood pressure and heart rate resulting in relaxation. Stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline also decrease, which aids in alleviating the all too familiar symptoms of anxiety. According to a recent study, the right song can decrease signs of stress up to 65%.

Benefits of Selecting Appropriate Music for a Business

Background music can not only contribute to elevated mood in the workplace, but it also promotes work productivity. The numerous proven advantages of listening to the right music include:

  • Reduced anxiety and stress.
  • Improved mood and motivation.
  • Better focus.
  • Increased performance and productivity.
  • Improved communication.
  • Enhanced creativity.

A frequently posed question is whether the music must be a favorite or even liked by the individual in order to evoke these positive benefits. The short answer is: no. Unless a type of music is particularly offensive to an employee, any music deemed happy or upbeat results in positive effects

The Right Music for the Workplace

There is no perfect playlist for all workplaces. Each business and each employee is unique. For a simple example, consider all of the stores within a shopping mall. Each business not only has different colors and images they display but often each retail location has very different music that they play. Employers must consider a curated combination of different musical qualities. When selecting the ideal background music for a business, it’s important to consider the following factors:


Lyrics can be distracting in certain types of workplaces; therefore music without lyrics is often preferable. Music with recognizable words can break focus and may not have the desired effect on workplace productivity. Lyrics can also interfere with the learning of new concepts or information.

Musical Structure or Key

Similarly, complex or scattered musical structure can serve as a distraction. Dissonant chords are often unpleasant and can negatively impact mood.


The pace or speed of music can be an important factor in achieving the appropriate state of concentration. According to Dr. Emma Gray’s research, music’s ideal tempo for learning and creativity is 50 to 80 beats per minute, whereas another study found music at 120 beats per minute improved memory performance compared to slower or faster tempos.


Understandably, music that is too loud can be a distraction while working. Depending on any other noise sources in the workplace (phone conversations, printers, or other loud equipment), the background music should be set at a moderate level. Businesses can make adjustments based on employee feedback.

Task Being Executed

The music selected for a business depends on the task at hand. Consider the following goals when choosing which genre to play:

  • Creativity: For those jobs that require a worker to develop creative ideas, music can be particularly beneficial. Any upbeat “happy” music has been proven to enhance creativity.
  • Accuracy: For logical tasks, ambient or classical music are preferable. Ambient music promoted accuracy in 92% of employees performing data entry. Classical music is also a good choice for analytical tasks as those who enjoyed classical arrangements increased accuracy by 12%.
  • Repetition: Team members can complete any monotonous, repetitive tasks more efficiently while listening to their favorite type of music. The familiarity of the tracks and lyrics aid in combating boredom while also distracting from mental or physical fatigue.
  • Speed: If completing tasks quickly is the goal, dance or pop music may be better choices. Individuals were able to complete tasks 58% faster while listening to pop, whereas dance tunes increased the speed of proofreading by 20%.

Where Should Music be Played in the Workplace?

After selecting the type of music best suited for the staff, it’s important to consider where in the workplace music should be played. Depending on the type of business, there are numerous options available

Store Floor or Restaurant Waiting Area

The obvious choice for where to play music is where customers first interact with your business – the front door. This sets the vibe and tone for what they will experience inside. For businesses that often experience long lines of customers like banks, wireless dealers or popular takeout food establishments, the right music can actually lower perceived wait times for customers, as well as energize employees.


If a business has a lobby through which customers and employees enter, this can be an optimal place to play music. It will not only elevate the mood of employees when they spend time in the lobby, but it contributes to the overall brand. Consider who the business serves and what environment they wish to walk into when selecting music for the lobby. Also, take into account whether team members will be performing tasks in the lobby. For example, a bank with employees serving as tellers within the lobby space? Loud music with lyrics may not be ideal for the concentration required for their tasks.


Not only do employees make trips to the restroom numerous times each day, but the bathroom can serve as a sanctuary during stressful times. Playing uplifting or relaxing music in the restroom area can aid in improving employee moods. Staff members can return to their desks with decreased stress levels. Client restrooms can benefit from the same mood-boosting tracks.

Common Areas

Areas where employees take breaks or enjoy meals are excellent places to utilize background music. If staff members are not completing job-related tasks, music with lyrics or more fast-paced tunes can be appropriate. Uplifting music can allow staff members to return from a break with an improved mindset.

Recreational Areas

The relaxing music played within the workspace is certainly not the best choice for a gym or workout facility. Motivational music can be beneficial in an employee’s recreational area. Uplifting tunes can prepare staff members for movement, which can serve as a form of stress relief. A designated area for meditation can also be a valuable amenity to a workspace. This room can offer a safe space for employees to enjoy relaxing, ambient music.

Play Different Music in Different Areas of the Business

Business with multiple tasks underway at any given time may require the ability to designate zones where different music types can be played simultaneously. Not only can business owners control where specific music plays, but they can also determine exactly when it will be heard. Perhaps morning staff requires ambient music to concentrate, whereas those working at night need familiar lyrics to help them fulfill product stocking’s physical requirements. Dayparting allows business owners to plan music based on the time of day.

Customizing and Planning Business Background Music

Given the uniqueness of every workplace and each employee’s individuality, a business should have music curated to its specific needs. Whether the goal is an occasional boost in mood, music to lower stress, or improved focus, there is music and playlists that can help optimize these goals. Not to mention that the right music can start improving the overall work environment and the morale of employees.

It’s common knowledge that music has a powerful effect on listeners, it’s time that businesses understand this and use it consciously when trying to achieve their own brand goals.

Mitch Bishop

CMO of Cloud Cover Music

Mitch Bishop is the CMO at Cloud Cover Music, a fast-growing Los Angeles-based streaming music service for business. Cloud Cover Music is the #1-rated digital music service used at tens of thousands of locations every day to delight customers, soothe frayed nerves during the COVID-19 epidemic, and energize employees. Mitch has held executive marketing and sales roles at CloudPassage, Moovweb, iRise, Sybase, and other fast-growing start-ups and is a published book author (IMSA 1969-1989)