IT SEEMS Snow White had the right idea. Jauntily encouraging people to embrace their jobs in the ditty Whistle While You Work, she sang: "Imagine that the broom is someone you love."
Now, 70 years after she and the Seven Dwarfs first danced across our screens in the Disney classic, a professor of music has found that people really do work better with a song in their hearts.
Professor Richard McGregor, of the University of Cumbria, yesterday insisted there was plenty of evidence that the right sort of music, played at the right sort of volume, could help bring about a happy workforce and increase productivity.
"There's clear evidence that a happy workforce is a productive one, and the easiest way of raising the spirits in the office is to put on the radio or a CD," he said.
"But the choice of music is vital and there is a risk that, if it's the wrong choice, it could be a recipe for office disaster and upset most of the office."
The Snow White anthem or The Beatles' We Can Work it Out would be the kind of music likely to induce a happy, productive atmosphere. But playing the Boomtown Rats' I Don't Like Mondays or Cilla Black's Work is a Four Letter Word could be counter-productive if played in the workplace.
Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols, Fight the Power by Public Enemy or Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now by the Smiths would also be unfortunate choices, the professor said.
"If you have the wrong sort of music or music that people don't like, it can be counter-productive. But the right sort of music can help people relax and help people concentrate better on their work," he said.
Although music is commonplace in the likes of factories and garages, it is much less usual to find it in most offices, according to Prof McGregor's research.
However, he says cheery music could be just what office staff need to break up the monotony of the working day – and he claimed that, despite what the boss might think, it could actually make people more productive. "Most offices operate in near silence, with the only noise being the sound of keyboards tapping and phones ringing," he said. "But this in itself puts people on edge and can make them fearful of making any noise.
"The right level of background music leads to an immediate change in atmosphere and encourages creativity and relaxation amongst everyone."
He added: "And with the increasing popularity of MP3 players and personal music systems, there's no reason why people in the office can't pop their headphones in and listen to their own favourite music – as long as their singing doesn't disturb everyone else."
Cynthia McVey, the head of psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, said being able to choose the soundtrack to their working life could help people feel more in control.
"If you are allowed to select music you would like to listen to, you feel you have a lot more control over your environment rather than being dictated to," she said.
But she agreed the choice of music in an open-plan office might be a bone of contention. "There are problems if you are in an office and one person likes silence or people have different tastes in music," she said.
"But people could always listen to music on their headphones or on an iPod. Music can certainly relax you if you are stressed – but it can also take you into a dream world where you are less able to concentrate."
Paul Johnston, the co-founder of the Jock 'n' Roll website, said taking music into the workplace was becoming increasingly common. "I know we always have the radio on in our office," he said. "But if you are listening to one of the commercial stations they often play the same songs over and over again, which can drive you to distraction.
"The right music can get you going and lift your mood – but if it's a record you don't like it can have the opposite effect. And it's definitely not a good idea to be wearing headphones if you have a job that involves speaking to people on the phone."
HITS FOR THE OFFICE JUKEBOX
Top five songs to help you enjoy work:
1. We can work it out – The Beatles
2. Car wash – Rose Royce
3. What a wonderful world – Eva Cassidy and Katie Mehlua
4. Whistle while you work – From the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
5. Friday I'm in love – The Cure
Five songs which aren't such a good idea in the office:
1. I don't like Mondays – The Boomtown Rats
2. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
3. Fight the power – Public Enemy
4. Anarchy in the UK – the Sex Pistols
5. Heaven knows I'm miserable now – The Smiths
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