A response to the ongoing mental health crisis in the workplace: music therapy

The American work culture is known for its long hours, fast pace, and “work at all costs” mentality. The demands on employees often lead to burnout, anxiety and depression.

The statistics reveal a harsh reality: The American Institute of Stress estimates that work-related stress is responsible for $300 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased health care costs annually. This staggering number underscores the urgency of addressing the mental health challenges facing the American workforce.

The Silent Struggle: Mental Health Issues
Mental health issues are a quiet but ever-growing concern among American workers. The constant pressure to perform, meet goals and excel in a competitive environment takes its toll. Many employees silently struggle with anxiety and depression, fearing stigma or career repercussions if they seek help. The isolation and loneliness that can accompany a busy work schedule further exacerbate these mental health challenges. Employees often find themselves trapped in a cycle of stress, anxiety and reduced productivity, which can affect not only their work, but their overall quality of life. And even worse, if they do seek help, traditional methods of support and resources often feel unavailable and inadequate—and the data shows. Depressive episodes have increased by 90% in the last decade, 83% of workers report work-related stress and only 24% of workers believe their employers care about their well-being.

Read more: Mental health, ADHD, fertility: Don’t let your employees struggle in silence

The useful harmonies of music
Given the demands and stresses of the modern workplace, managers and employees are constantly looking for ways to improve their mental well-being, productivity and focus. Historically, many have turned to caffeine, exercise, therapy, or meditation to help them get a mental boost through their day, even though these options are often not as effective, accessible, or as culturally relevant as a tool that often doesn’t receives recognition deserves: music.

Research shows that listening to music while working can improve cognitive performanceimprovement moodand push creativity. There is also good evidence to support that music can improve executive function, especially when it comes to performing cognitive tasks that involve sustained attention, response inhibition, repetition and flow. All, of course, are very critical when we want to perform tasks efficiently and perform at our best in the workplace.

So how exactly does music help improve mood and executive function? And what are some best practices for incorporating music into your work routine? Let’s dive in.

Look at the science
It’s important to understand the science behind music and the brain. Studies show that listening to music can improving negative moods and reducing stress, factors that can significantly reduce executive function and cognitive performance. Conversely, when we are in a relaxed, positive state, our brains are primed for productivity: we are better engaged and focused on work and get more done. Music stands out in this context because it is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to boost mood and reduce stress, especially at work. And it turns out that many employees are already reaping the many benefits of music during their workday, such as Nielsen reports that 75% of workers listen to music at work at least once a week.

But there’s one tricky part: choosing the right music to soundtrack your success. Not all music is created equal and there are many nuances to consider, so listen up.

Read more: Do your mental health benefits need an update?

Tip 1: Don’t choose by genre
People often make the mistake of choosing genre as a starting point, believing that one particular genre is more useful than another. Given that there is a lot of structural variation within the genre, it’s better to get more specific than that. As a starting point, you can start with instrumental music to improve cognitive performance. This is because instrumental music is less distracting than music with lyrics, which can interfere with verbal processing and memory.

Tip 2: Calibrate tempo and volume
Next, consider tempo and volume. Uptempo music can be rousing, which is fine, but it’s important not to overdo it or you might start a dance party instead of getting work done. It’s the same with the volume – if you turn it up too much, the brain will begin to focus on the music rather than the task at hand.

Tip 3: Familiarize yourself with musical texture
Think about texture in music. This may be a new term for you. Music that is densely textured is likely to attract too much attention to help focus work, and music that is too lightly textured may not be stimulating enough. Experiment and see what the right balance is for you. This is a factor that is usually quite personal to each of us.

Tip 4: Match the music to your mood
Music is not one-size-fits-all, and choosing the right focus music can vary greatly depending on your emotional state, the task at hand, and your environment. A basic rule that you can use from music therapy is called iso principle, a technique whereby music tunes into a person’s mood, then gradually changes to affect the desired mood state. For example, if you’re feeling tired, you might first choose some down-tempo music that matches your low energy profile, helping you to become aware of and embrace your current mood. Then, gradually choose music that can lift you from fatigue to a more energetic state.

Read more: How Prudential, Walmart, Aflac and PwC are supporting mental health in the workplace

Recognize the meaning
Unlocking the power of music to stimulate your brain can be a game-changer in getting your most important work done during the day. This is important to recognize as stress, anxiety and mental health issues cast a long shadow on productivity and job satisfaction. The cost of this silent suffering is measured in billions of dollars and countless missed opportunities that have a detrimental impact on the workplace.

Music is such an important part of our daily lives, but it’s not seen often enough as a solution to big problems like stress and productivity. However, its benefits are well researched and clear.

By incorporating music into the work routine, employers can help reduce stress and improving cognitive performance, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction and ultimately reduced costs. And for all you workaholics ready to boost your productivity, with some trial and error you may find that music is just the boost you need to up the ante and ultimately add real value to your work day .

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