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How Happy Music Sparks Employee Teamwork

How Happy Music Sparks Employee Teamwork

Playing upbeat music improves mood and inspires cooperative behavior 

Managers can boost employee teamwork by playing happy music

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Kniffin, Kevin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink, and William Schulze (2016). The sound of cooperation: Musical influences on cooperative behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior. doi: 10.1002/job.2128 

From the casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to the throbbing electronic at teen clothing outlets, music is used universally to mold customer experience and behavior, but what impact does it have on employees?  A new study by Cornell researchers explores this question and finds that music can also have important effects on workers.

“Music is everywhere we go, sometimes melting into the background at supermarkets or gyms and other times it's more prominent like in places of worship or at presidential nominating conventions.  Clearly, people think music is important but prior research hasn’t closely examined music’s relevance for employees; instead, it’s mainly been taken-for-granted,” explains lead author Kevin Kniffin, PhD, a behavioral scientist at Cornell University.

In the this newly published paper, Kniffin and his Cornell colleagues, Jubo Yan, PhD, Brian Wansink, PhD, and William Schulze, PhD, describe two studies that they conducted to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of a total of 266 individuals. For each study, participants were grouped into teams of 3. Each member of the team was given multiple opportunities to contribute to the team’s value using tokens or to keep the tokens for him/herself. Both studies found that when music deemed happy and upbeat, such as Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, was played, team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value than if music deemed unpleasant was played or if no music played.  This shows that happy music provokes employees to make decisions for the good of the team.

“Music with rhythm tends to positively affect mood and our studies show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it,” Kniffin added.

“What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work,” explains co-author Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, “is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.” 

The researchers suggest that retail managers consider not only the customer experience but also the worker experience when picking the day’s music. Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.