More Accounting Tomorrow Posts

Introducing 'Ask Rebecca'

September 15, 2009

Have an intergenerational issue in your firm? Accounting Tomorrow is teaming up with Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting to answer your questions. Today’s topic is iPods at work – Are they acceptable or not?

Dear Rebecca: My managing shareholder is concerned about the number of staff using ipods while they are working.  He asked if there is any research that shows that they are less focused and effective by using the ipods while they are working.  I shared with him that most of the staff has been watching tv, listening to music, etc while doing other things for most of their life.  If we’re having a performance issue, we can address that as a potential distraction, but for most, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Do you have any other thoughts that might help? - Tricia

Dear Tricia: Your feedback to your managing shareholder about the iPods is spot on. Unless there's a performance issue, the iPods shouldn't be an issue.

Your managing shareholder has probably seen some of the brain research that shows that when people try to do multiple things at once, e.g. cook dinner and write a memo, they're less effective at both. However, listening to music on an iPod is not multitasking; it’s background music, the same kind that doctors and dentists have in their lobbies and patient rooms.

Your firm could use this phenomenon to its advantage. What if different departments or generations created their own playlists, and distributed them? Your managing shareholder could start by doing “The Soundtrack of My Life” and providing some liner notes. Bonus points if you can get the team to listen to Mozart or classical music; research shows it increases creativity and performance!

Have an intergenerational issue in your firm? Ask Rebecca! E-mail her at: If your question is chosen, you'll receive a free copy of her book, Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Mind of the Next Generation." We’ll post the answers right here on

Comments (2)
We encourage people in our office to listen to music or other forms of audio at work. I have found that that while kept at reasonable volumes, it is not distracting any work flow. As an accountant staring at ledgers all day, silence is my worst enemy. Thanks Rebecca for addressing this debate head on.
Posted by vbpoutsourcing | Tuesday, September 15 2009 at 2:18PM ET
Without a doubt, this should not be an issue. Ipods are a passive device, turn it on and forget it. Be glad your employees are courteous and not interrupting the lives of their surrounding co-workers by playing a radio or music via speakers.

The passive sound-of-their-choice helps them to feel comfortable and relax into a high productive mode while blocking out other distractions.

I can tell you that in my many years of experience, employees who are utilizing ipods are more focused and productive than those who are not. If you want to pay me to do a research project, get in touch... but the everyday reality of working with both sects tells me the ones who plug them in are "using them for good".

And I would not try to implement a "soundtrack" to the team. Forcing music styles onto others will actually lower their productivity as it is distracting and uncomfortable.

What I might try to do instead is provide some in-house audio pod-casts which they can download and add to their repertoire. These can educate on new initiatives and explain higher level explanations so if they chose to listen and learn, your team would be strengthened.

Many employees are also pr com obably listening to audio books and trying to improve themselves. Take a look at their non-fiction professional development sections and see about providing these employees with free downloads for titles which address your firm's challenges and future direction.

p.s. Great choice in Next Generation Consulting. They rock it out of the house!
Posted by eighmmie | Tuesday, September 15 2009 at 10:20AM ET
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