Besides breakups and meeting “shawty” on the dancefloor, pop music obsesses over another aspect of contemporary culture: working nine-to-five. Since Elvis Costello penned Welcome to the Working Week in ’77, Dolly’s hit about tumbling out of bed to pour “a cup of ambition” has been streamed 8.46 million times and The Bangles’ Manic Monday dominated the charts in over ten countries. But behind the upbeat major chords that make them favourites at the office party, these songs capture a sobering fact: work can seriously affect our wellbeing.
While positive work environments boost self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose, causes of workplace stress such as deadlines, mounting workloads and antisocial company culture are resulting in the loss of 70 million UK working days a year. In fact, the latest research from mental health charity Mind revealed that 48% of UK workers are experiencing poor mental health in their current job.
However, a group of US scientists have discovered something that can reverse no less than nineteen gene expressions associated with stress within an hour of completing a stress-inducing activity. It’s not a power nap or stroking a puppy. It’s a piano lesson. As Billy Joel once said, “music, in itself, is healing” and science is singing the same tune about mental health. Here’s three ways music can combat the causes of poor mental health in the workplace and even treat its symptoms- captured in the song titles of three music greats…
Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You- Frankie Valli
Although Frankie may have sang this about his ex-wife Mary, many of us could have written it about our iPads. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average UK adult spends over 20 hours online a week. Screens fill our downtime too; passive use of social media known as ‘scrolling’ has become a popular pastime during lunch breaks and commutes. Far from being a Gen Z problem, over 25s spend an average of 24 minutes a day on Instagram alone. Associated with increased anxiety, depression and life dissatisfaction, screens are wreaking havoc with our wellbeing.
At lunchtime, put Twitter away and pick up a guitar. Creative activities like playing and composing music stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain, giving the information-processing left hemisphere a break and rekindling our ability to solve problems. Trade bitterly eyeing other people’s holiday snaps for learning the introduction to Under the Bridge or mastering a difficult switch between barre chords. Playing music even releases dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter), providing a burst of positivity and fresh motivation for the afternoon ahead.
Keep on Movin' - Five
A quarter of the UK workforce spends 7-8 hours of their working day at a desk. The NHS condemns our sedentary behaviour linking it to weaker bones and unregulated blood pressure, but it also negatively impacts our emotional wellbeing.
However, playing music is inherently physical. Renowned brass player Louis Armstrong had to carry a handkerchief to every performance as his energetic trumpet solos caused him to perspire! British Lung Foundation choir leaders use singing postures to increase patients’ physical strength whilst singing itself increases lung capacity and breath control. Even when we’re not standing up, the physical energy exerted playing the drums or swaying to music breaks up the monotony of a cramped desk pose, developing core strength and stimulating the vestibular system (responsible for movement coordination and balance). Strongly associated with better mood regulation, varying your daily movements through music-making can help you “get on up, when you’re down (baby)”.
Lean on Me - Bill Withers
The Benenden Mental Health Report revealed that less than 1 in 10 employees would confide in their employer if they were suffering from a mental health condition. Researchers everywhere are now calling for a company culture of “openness” to improve mental health support at work. However, with 67% of employees still admitting to being too scared or embarrassed to raise these kinds of issues with line managers, there’s still a long way to go.
Music has been nicknamed ‘social glue’ by psychologists due to its ability to bond people together. Children who play musical games with each other exhibit far higher levels of empathy than children who participate in non-musical activities. According to the University of Melbourne, musicians also score significantly higher on openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness in standardised personality tests. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, a band works for something “greater than the sum of its parts”, shattering hierarchies and removing generational barriers. From discussing our favourite Beatles albums to asking for crucial mental health advice, music provides the springboard for the kind of communication that ensures everybody has somebody to lean on.
Source: All in Good Time (AIGT), a global provider of music-based experiential learning and organisational enhancement. To bring music into your workplace, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about AIGT's music team building services.