Wearing headphones at work can provide an ideal escape and enable deep productivity. They help people get into a groove, and they send a clear sign to others that you’re busy. But without clear guidelines or a headphone policy at work, employees are left to decipher best practices on their own.
In this post, we’ll provide clear workplace guidelines about when and how to best utilize headphones for the office environment. Continue to the end of the post for our downloadable headphone policy checklist and a list of the best headphones for noisy offices.
Headphone Policy at Work
Manage Volume — Only You Should Hear Your Headphones
The purpose of your headphones is to help you listen to something exclusively. They pull you into another world to help you focus on important work. Make sure whatever you are listening to stays with you. No one should be able to hear your music through your headphones. It’s distracting for others and super inconsiderate to your coworkers.
If you’re unsure how loud is too loud, ask the people around you if they can hear what you’re listening to. When in doubt, aim for lower volume, especially if you are working close to others.
Don’t Let Headphones Interfere With Office Communication
Headphones can impede organic collaboration. Finding time for deep work and concentration is important, but so is office communication. Don’t let your headphones interfere with effective communication in the workplace.
Pick and choose when you wear headphones. Use them to create bursts of productive work—not every moment of every day. You still need to be available to others in the workplace. If headphones are a sure sign you’re busy, people will be less likely to approach you when you’re wearing them. This is great for when you need to get stuff done, but when you wear them all day, it can begin to interfere with other people’s work.
When you don’t need to get in the zone, keep the headphones off so that people can approach you or ask you a question if they need to.
Never Wear Headphones During Conversations or Meetings
Be considerate of other people’s time. It’s rude to wear headphones when other people are talking to you. Even though you may not be listening to anything, simply having headphones on or even one earbud in makes it look like you aren’t interested in whatever’s going on in the outside world.
Using headphones or earbuds sends a clear sign you’re not listening. Never wear headphones in meetings. You might think no one will notice one earbud in, but since you shouldn’t be listening to anything during a meeting anyway, it’s best not to wear them at all.
Choose the Right Type of Music
Choose music that will increase your productivity, not hinder it. Match the task to the music. Music without lyrics or music you are very familiar with is best for enhancing your concentration. Look for soundtracks, jazz, or classical music for tasks that require thought and consideration.
If you require deep concentration, try listening to ambient sounds. Louder noises and lyrics are distracting when you need to solve a problem, but moderate ambient noise can enhance your performance.
Music with lyrics, on the other hand, can help you complete repetitive, monotonous tasks. The lyrics provide an unstimulated mind with a slight escape. Pay close attention to the type of work you are trying to complete and adjust your playlist as needed. Music should aid your productivity, not serve as another distraction.
🎧 Learn what type of music is best for productivity and How to Choose the Best Playlist for Work.
Understand Safety Implications
While headphones provide an escape and a chance to get into deep work, they can present safety concerns. When you wear headphones or earbuds, you aren’t able to hear the outside world as clearly. This can mean missing certain sound cues that keep us safe.
Headphones shouldn’t be worn while walking around the workplace, and they shouldn’t be worn when using potentially dangerous equipment. Ensure you aren’t listening to anything so loudly that you aren’t able to hear emergency alarms.
Set Policies and Best Practices
Don’t expect your team to know what’s expected if you haven’t set any boundaries or policies around headphones in the workplace. Create a clear policy about headphones and ensure the rules apply to everyone.
Managers should be held to the same expectations as the rest of the team. Provide key information, such as when it is or isn’t appropriate to wear headphones, whether it matters if people choose headphones or earbuds, and advice for how to best utilize headphones for deep, focused work.
How to Implement Headphones and Earbuds in the Workplace Policy
Follow our Workplace Headphone Policy Checklist and print a copy of your own with our free download.
✅ Never wear headphones or earbuds when someone is talking to you or during a meeting. Even if your music is off, you will appear as if you aren’t paying attention.
✅ Maintain a reasonable headphone volume and never let your music interfere with those around you.
✅ If possible, choose headphones over earbuds so your coworkers can clearly see that you’re wearing headphones. If you are wearing earbuds, ensure they are visible.
✅ Don’t let headphones interfere with natural collaboration in the workplace. Save your headphones for when you need to find deep focus.
✅ Choose music that aids your productivity. Opt for music without lyrics or very familiar music when you need to concentrate. Save the lyrics for completing repetitive or monotonous tasks.
✅ Don't let headphones affect workplace safety. Never wear them while walking around the office, and don’t let volume hinder your ability to hear emergency signals.
Headphones vs. Earbuds
Headphones and earbuds both have pros and cons, but in general, over-ear headphones are better for office environments. Even though earbuds are more portable and easier to store, headphones block out more outside noise, and they indicate to others in the workplace that you are busy. Earbuds may not be noticed, which can cause confusion or result in someone trying to speak to you when you can’t hear them.
Completely cover your ears to block outside noise
Smaller and easy to store
Provide a clear visual indicator that you’re not available
More portable and better for frequent travel
The larger size can mean better sound quality
Often a more affordable option
Don’t tangle as easily as earbuds
Better for exercise or physical activity
You don’t need to put anything inside your ears
Earbuds can be shared with another person
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Office Environments
We pulled together a list of some of the best headphones, earbuds, and headsets available. All of these products are available on Amazon, and we made sure to include a budget option for each category.
Keep in mind that in an open office environment, noticeable headphones can be an asset. They help others see that you’re busy and prevent communication confusion. That said, larger headphones can be expensive, and they are tough to take from place to place. If you choose to purchase earbuds, try to make sure they are noticeable, or consider adding a sign to your office door, computer, or workspace to let people know you are wearing headphones. For example, “Earbuds in, but I am available if you have a question.” Or, “I am wearing headphones for time-sensitive work. Please interrupt for emergencies only.”
Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Offices
- Noise-Canceling Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4
- Noise-Canceling Headphones: Bose 700
- Budget Noise-Canceling Headphones: Paww WaveSound 3
Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds for Offices
- Noise-Canceling Earbuds: Bose QuietComfort 20
- Budget Wireless Noise-Canceling Earbuds: TaoTronics SoundLiberty 94
Noise-Canceling Headphones With Microphone for Offices
- Headphones for Calls: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Headphones for Calls: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Budget Headphones For Calls: Sennheiser HD 4.50
Noise-Canceling Earbuds With Microphone for Offices
- Earbuds for Calls: Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2
- Earbuds for Calls: Apple Airpods Pro
- Budget Earbuds for Calls: TaoTronics SoundLiberty 80
Best Headset for Work Phones
- USB Headset for Work Phones: Jabra Evolve 40
- USB Headset for Work Phones: Corsair HS60 Haptic
- Budget USB Headset: Sennheiser PC 8
Best Wireless Headset for Desk Phones
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