Radios In The Shop

A discussion with as many opinions as there are styles of music. February 25, 2005

Does anyone have a policy with regard to radios in the shop? Are there any policies for personal music devices? Headphones for these devices?

With multiple staff and clients coming through on occasion, and when making announcements over an intercom, it can become a problem. I have a radio playing in the shop right now and the staff generally pick a station and play it all the time. I donít like the station, but havenít cared much, as I donít get to spend much time in the shop. When I do go in, I either shut it off or change the station. Mostly just shut it off. When I do bring a client in, I shut it off. But sometimes clients show up there first and get directed to the office. That wonít happen in the new place, as they will have to go to the office to get to the shop.

In the past, I have had problems in larger companies with staff not liking a particular station. They all started bringing in their own radios and some wore headphones. I had to stop all headphone usage and personal radios. I set the station on the company radio and changed it up every couple hours so everyone got to listen to their station on a fair share basis.

I donít want to deal with this anymore, going into a new shop and growing like we are. Personally, Iíd rather not have any music in the new shop, or a generic soft jazz or ez listening ("muzac") music running over the intercom that stops when announcements are made. Just wondering what others are doing. Itís a proven fact in retail environments that certain music will cause patrons to stay longer, spend more freely, or do just the opposite.

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor J:
I do not like music in the shop. We have a shop of 30 people. We have had all the problems you can think of concerning the use of radios. Now, we do not allow headsets. We consider it a safety hazard. The music we pump in comes from Muzak. The type of station and volume is controlled form the manger's desk. This works for us.

From contributor E:
You're correct about the studies involving music in retail and work places. What music to play and how loud should be up to you.

From contributor M:
If I can't rock out when I'm working, I will not work. Music helps the creative juices and creates energy (this is coming from a man who has a small shop and is a drummer - rock on!).

From contributor P:
Several years ago, while working for an exhibit builder, a similar situation was causing a lot of friction in both the shop and front office.

The radio was played over the intercom system and was controlled from the front office. The shop personnel didn't care for the "professional office" type of music, mostly classical and/or easy listening. First one, then two or three radios showed up in the shop, each one playing loud enough to drown out the piped in music. Then it became difficult to hear announcements over the intercom. This didn't last very long before personal radios were banned from the shop. The shop personnel responded by turning the volume down on the intercom speakers. A heated discussion ensued, but a peaceful compromise was reached.

No more music would be piped in from the office, but the intercom still worked. Shop music and volume would be controlled from the shop foreman's office. This way, one person was responsible. Shop personnel selected the top five radio stations and one was played each day. Actually, only three stations were selected, but rotated each day. This worked quite well and everyone was satisfied. A very minimal amount of rewiring was required, but was handled in house.

Whatever your decision, just don't try to run rough shod over everyone and dictate what they will or will not listen to. Ask those affected for their opinions and ideas. A shop with no music is a very dull and boring place indeed. Music provides a little zip in the walk as well as fodder for chit chat during the day. (Except, of course, for talk radio. Too many political arguments can develop, thus creating a different distraction.). Music can calm the savage beast.

From contributor T:
I personally think music is vital to a shop, although if I'm in on a weekend puttering around, I usually don't have it on. But it's got to be something that makes people want to move, not easy listening or muzak.

Volume is another issue. It's a shop, not a concert hall, and the people are there to work.

I have two rules: No rap, and volume must be kept low enough that when no machines are running, a conversation can take place without yelling. There comes a point where the volume will begin to interfere with concentration.

Further, part of operating a machine safely is being able to hear what it's doing. If the music is of a volume that drowns out a machine while you're working on it, that's definitely too loud.

Personal devices? No, for the same reason. My guys are there to work. As a team, not in their own little distracted and unsafe world.

Regarding "peaceful compromise"... This situation only came to be because there was no firm company policy already in place to deal with it, so the shop guys set their own (conflicting) policies.

I find that if you set policy and explain the reason for it, people generally go along, as long as it's not a BS reason (i.e. I don't like jazz). Those that won't follow reasonable company policy are probably undermining your operation in other, less visible ways.

From contributor H:
A solution I saw in a fiberglass plant in Florida was a lottery. So long as the station was not on the 'no play list', every guy in the shop got 1 vote. They entered a ballot in the box. The foreman just drew the winner that day and that's the station that got played. But every lot got played. Then they would start all over again. The interesting trick was they made the ballot process part of their safety meeting they held every month.

From contributor O:
There's nothing like some great guitar riffs from Pink Floyd or Walter Trout to get you into the spraying groove.

From contributor A:
We bought a 200 CD changer, everyone put in an equal amount of disks and it was put on random. No one can touch the changer except me. Put it on in the morning and turn it off at the end of the day. Fair for everyone and the whining stopped, not to mention I don't have to deal with someone walking up and fiddling with the radio volume or station every half hour. They have 400 disk changers now for around 200 bucks.

From contributor N:
Radios? Not in the shop. You (presumably) are the boss, so you make the rules. No music - no headphones - no cell phones! Place that on your company policy that the employee signs when you hire him.

Music usually can't be heard well above the din of machinery unless it's blaring, and that's worse than the din. Besides that, in a noisy shop, ear protection should be in place.

In this situation, music is a distraction. That's why it's wanted. You don't want or need your employees to be distracted while they're on your payroll. Safety, health, and attention disqualify music in a noisy and potentially dangerous environment.

From contributor D:
I work by myself in my own shop, and sometimes I turn the radio on, but most of the time I am focused on my work and have one or more machines running. Under those conditions, music is the last thing I need in the mix.

When I am inside the house doing drafting work, occasionally I play some music, but even then I find that music can be a distraction for any but the most mundane of tasks.

In my 40+ years of work experience, I have seen the choice of music become an issue at several places. Better not to have any music than to add a divisive distraction to the work environment.

From contributor B:
Music in the shop is a personal issue. If the guy wants to break up the tedium of sanding doors all day or cutting plywood, why not? No headphones? Get a set with an FM radio built in. You have hearing protection and you bother no one else!

This thing about "the boss wants no distractions" is all very well and good, except that the boss is not out there doing the tedious work. Ever heard of compassion?

CD players with equal opportunities to select your music are an excellent alternative. No ads, no consistent music of any one kind, user selection, and clear sound.

Let's get with it, here. It's a job, not a prison sentence. If the man is working for you and making you a healthy profit, let him have some enjoyment in his day. I do, and I have a happier and more comfortable shop for it.

From contributor N:
"No headphones? Get a set with an FM Radio built in. You have hearing protection and you bother no one else!" he thought to himself, not hearing the forklift beeping and coworkers yelling as it backed over him...

From contributor B:
Have you tried those ear protection/FM headsets? You can hear others in the shop. I know, as I have one and I hear the others just fine. It just reduces the noise, not eliminates it. Since when do they have forklifts in a small/medium cabinet shop anyway?

From the original questioner:
I appreciate all the insight and options. As a matter of fact, in relation to the last post, I will have a forklift in my shop. There are also the yelled warnings when someone is about to walk into something or doing something wrong that can cause an injury.

From contributor L:
I don't understand about the concern of the hazard from the forklift and the yelling. As previously stated, you can hear with the FM headphones on about the same as the safety ear plug that you are to wear for ear protection. If you are required to wear the ear protection, why not make it enjoyable? I think you could increase productivity with active minds as well as better attitudes.

From the original questioner:
The drawback to radio headphones is that you can only hear around you provided your volume is below a certain level. Some of the better ear protection devices offer specific db filtering that can allow a normal conversation, yet muffle a router.

I'm not opposed to music, it's just I want a certain image portrayed to clientele, don't want different tastes to clash, don't want several different radios going, and when I call out to someone, I want them to hear me, and if a lift is coming near, I want them to hear the beeps.

I like music and a dead sound shop is boring. I enjoy working in synch with a good beat going. On the other hand, I can zone out things around me, entranced by the music and my work. There has to be a happy medium.

So far I am allowing a radio at their workstation on low volume. If I'm at another station I don't want to hear their radio. I'm keeping an eye on Ebay for a decent bargain on a multi disc player, which I will begin using and ban the radios at that time. I've let everyone know that is what will happen eventually.

At first they were miffed to keep the volume so low. But they have adapted and see it is in their best interest and they still are going to have their music.

After all, I am here to run a business and make money. Employees are here to work and make money. While it's not to be a miserable experience for any of us, we are not here to have fun and be entertained.

From contributor V:
My life has been spent in a shop - mine or someone else's - for the last 30 years. I now work in a true team shop. The first I've ever worked in, including my own. Office work and shop work is as different as the mindset of those workers. I have gone from working in sweat shops like Ashley Furniture in Whitehall, WI, where talking to co-workers about anything that is not work related is discouraged to owning my own shop and doing as I pleased.

Office folk have flowers, pictures of family, telephone, golf clubs, mounted fish and other non-job related things in the office and on their desk. I have never heard of anyone in a shop complaining about those things. I feel if listening to music, either on a headset or a bench radio, isn't being intrusive or a safety hazard, leave it alone. Instead of wasting time with this, why don't you spend your time figuring out how the workers can get paid more money?

From contributor U:
Radios quickly became an issue with staff, not me. One person liked one station, another liked another. Their choice was I pick the music and set up a system or they can keep their choices on a personal radio at their work station low, so it's only heard at their work station. Sometimes they don't and I'll mention to turn it down. If it doesn't go down, I unplug it and say "if you can't keep it where it belongs, then it can't be on." I'll plug it back in a little later. When other staff 30 feet away can't hear their station set at the proper volume and complain to me, it's a problem. Rules are meant to be followed. When they say they can't hear it over a sander, so they turned it up, I say "I don't care, I can't hear my home system over some of this equipment - just don't listen to the music while you do a noisy task. You're here to work, not listen to music. If work interferes with your music, then you have a thinking problem; if music interferes with work, then I have a production problem."

I like all types of music, but some classic rock jammin' out while I kick butt and do my thing is great. But it's also not what everyone else likes, nor is it wise, as I can't hear anyone else, so if I'm backing into something, I can't hear a shouted warning (seen it happen in my shops in the past). It's also not conducive to business when the occasional client is given a tour or is inspecting a job in the works.

So far, the issue has been resolved by allowing each person to have their own radio and listen to anything they want, so long as I can't hear it 10 feet away. Everyone has what they want and I can spend more time figuring out how the business can grow and make more money and how to keep staff happy and at their best.

It was the input from this board and other groups I'm involved with that I combined to arrive at a decision everyone can live with. I also took into account suggestions from staff and tossed out ideas that came from this forum for them to mull over.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
I'm using an old P-166 computer with a second 20 gig HD. I input everyone's music as MP3 files. I use a Jukebox program that allows me to catalogue all the staff's music automatically and select the genres, mood, etc and the time frame for the day and the computer does the rest... no arguments. I put in some time with this setup. The staff acknowlege that I'm taking an interest in removing conflict from the shop floor. It works. Same thing as a 200/400 CD changer, only different technology. Or... I could be a dictator. I've worked in those shops, but not ever for very long... I opened my own shop.