Muzak Making You Miserable? Here’s Why In-Store Playlists Deserve Worker Input

Workers are speaking out online about their store’s music playlists, which they say can be repetitive and annoying. While this issue is often seen as trivial to those who don’t work in the retail industry, research shows that music has a significant impact on mood and may even influence people’s willingness to help others.

Employees at Starbucks, Publix, and other major retailers are using social media to vent about the music playlists in their stores. While customers usually only spend a small slice of their day at these establishments, employees must spend hour after hour, week after week, listening to these same playlists. One employee claimed that their store playlist felt like “actual torture”.

In response to a recent playlist change, a barista from Starbucks wrote on Reddit, “The partners at my store were saying I was overreacting over my hatred of this song, but most of the ones I worked with today don’t work often enough to hear this 15 times a day every day for a week.” Another simply stated, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Workers are talking about their experience with music in their stores on Reddit

Around the holidays, store playlists can get even worse for retail workers. In another Reddit thread, one worker from Best Buy warned, “If you think it is bad now, wait until Christmas”. Similarly, in a Reddit community for retail workers, one user explains, “I understand the aspect of marketing and conditioning our customers to buy NOW. However, it’s the same 6 Christmas songs in a continuous loop. It makes the holidays off putting. Retail has ruined most holidays for me.”

While some people may find these complaints superficial, research shows that music has a significant impact on our moods and may even influence our willingness to help others. A study conducted by Jaden Ganser and Fareen Huda at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found that “mood scores for participants in the prosocial lyrics and uplifting music conditions became more positive and less negative. In contrast, mood scores for participants in the antisocial lyrics and annoying music conditions became less positive and more negative.” In other words, individuals have a clear, negative response when placed in annoying music conditions.

In addition, studies have found that playing Christmas music too early can harm mental health. An article in the Evening Standard describes, “Clinical psychologist Linda Blair has revealed that being around Christmas music for an extended period of time can be mentally draining. While it might not affect the casual listener, people working in department stores where ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is playing on repeat are the hardest hit.”

During the holidays, music playlists can get even worse for retail workers. Image Source: https://media.defense.gov/2016/Jun/30/2001564238/750/422/0/160625-M-ZZ999-450.JPG

Workers have also been talking about ways to balance their need for musical variety with company interest when it comes to store playlists. One Starbucks barista on Reddit suggests, “I wish there was a way to edit a playlist like deleting or editing certain songs from a huge pool [of approved music]. It sucks that there’s only a select few in the playlists and then we get ‘This Land is Your Land’ [on repeat]”.¹ Others say that they have asked their supervisors if they could use earbuds on the job or have used them in secret.

Workplace democracy is the principle that people should have a voice in determining their working conditions. Have you experienced annoying or repetitive music in your store? Is there something that you want to change in your workplace? Send a message to info@coworker.org with your thoughts or start a campaign here on Coworker.org.

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our technology makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign about changes you want to see in your workplace on Coworker.org here — or contact us at info@coworker.org if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.

¹ Note: While Starbucks has not yet given all baristas universal access to edit playlists in their stores, they did give baristas an opportunity to suggest songs for the Christmas playlist in 2014.