In tune: The role of music in employee engagement

Over the last week, DJs and music lovers everywhere have been celebrating 20 years of Britpop. If you’re not familiar with the term, it pretty much does what it says on the tin – it’s a sub-genre of alternative rock, and emerged in the early 1990s in the UK.

As part of the celebration, music fans were encouraged to vote for their favourite tunes – and some 30,000 rose to the challenge. BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq revealed the top 30 as part of a week-long celebration to mark the 20th Birthday of this genre – with Pulp’s ‘Common People’ voted as the number 1 Britpop anthem.

A host of music lovers were reminiscing in the office this week,  discussing and debating their favourite songs. This debate ranged from the best bands of the time (how could I POSSIBLY love Pulp as much as Blur?!), to the fashion fails, relationship woes and tales of drunken nights with old friends. I heard stories from people I work closely with, but I was particularly struck by the conversations that were sparked with people I’ve barely spoken to before – and all because of a little black box in the corner, blaring out songs that took people to another time entirely.

Music’s an amazing vehicle for time travel; the first note of a song can transport us to places we’d long forgotten about, to memories, smells, sights and times that were buried under the every day stuff. Just one song was enough to have a whole group of people (all of whom had only exchanged the usual work pleasantries in the past) laughing about what they were wearing at the time, how much they loved this band, how they’d never have guessed that Sheila from the office next door was a massive Supergrass fan.

At People Lab, we’re big believers in bringing yourself to work and sharing your passions. We encourage employees to be themselves in the workplace, to marry their personal selves with their professional selves. You don’t have to pretend you’re a robot when you enter the workplace, as though anything you do, like or love outside of work is a big secret (unless you’re the Walter White kind, of course – in which case, best keep that to yourself!)

We truly believe that when employees feel they can be themselves at work, it makes a huge contribution to the culture of the workplace. If your colleagues feel that you’re transparent and honest in everything you do, they’ll feel comfortable behaving in the same way – and the beautiful domino effect of this change starts to take place.

Music is a great starting point for sharing our interests – it’s something most people can relate to (I’ve only met one person in my entire life who uttered “I don’t like music” when I asked if they liked a particular band).  Instead of asking a colleague about their workload at the coffee machine, why don’t we ask if they’ve seen any great bands lately? Or what they’re listening to at the moment? It’s often these mutual interests that spark friendships, collaboration, and a reason to have future conversations around these common passions.

There’s a science behind this mutual love of music, and the effect that it has on our brains. Dr Oliver Sacks, noted neurologist and author, explains the science behind these ideas:

“Humans are uniquely able to produce and enjoy music—very few other animals can do so. But not only is music one of the fundamental ways we bond with each other, it literally shapes our brains. Perhaps this is so because musical activity involves many parts of the brain (emotional, motor, and cognitive areas), even more than we use for our other great human achievement, language. This is why it can be such an effective way to remember or to learn. It is no accident that we teach our youngest children with rhymes and songs. As anyone who can’t get an advertising jingle or a popular song out of their head knows, music burrows its way deep into the nervous system, so deep, in fact, that even when people suffer devastating neurological disease or injury, music is usually the last thing they lose.”

This instinctive bonding mechanism that music provides is a fantastic way for employees to engage with each other, and to discover those mutual interests and passions that would, perhaps, remain hidden otherwise. Could we use music to engage our employees at work? How could our favourite bands play a role in the way we learn and develop? We’d LOVE to hear your ideas on this – let us know your thoughts in the section below, or via our Linked In group.


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