Wearing headphones at work has a negative side, especially when it comes to how the action is perceived. The Robert Half survey revealed that wearing earbuds or headphones caused resentment among co-workers and was seen as “a major office-etiquette problem.”

Headphone use in the office predates the boom in streaming media like Spotify and Apple Music, and executives have long expressed concerns.

One of the biggest problems of headphones in the office is the loss of spontaneous creativity, exchange of ideas and common purpose that comes with having natural free-flowing conversations, Anne Kreamer, former executive vice president and worldwide creative director for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, wrote in the Harvard Business Review piece back in 2012.

But she noted that “headphones can operate as a visual ‘do not disturb, I’m working’ signal for employees who, in open-plan offices, need solitude in order to execute their work. … Being able to achieve that sense of solitude when necessary is clearly important.”

But she added, “Organizations need to develop protocols that avoid making isolation the universal default office norm, and that encourage face-to-face interaction.”

Only 9 percent of workers surveyed by Accountemps-Robert Half said their office did not allow music. Forty-four percent said their employer allowed music with no restrictions (e.g., mandating use of headphones).

As the open office concept has been widely embraced and more workers keep the wireless earbuds on as part of their everyday wardrobe, finding the right balance is key.

“I have worked at several places with private offices and a few with open offices. More personal space in an office and being able to close the door can help, but these nice-to-have attributes of a personal office are completely overshadowed by the benefits to the team of open space,” said Jeff McDuff, director of engineering at OfferUp.

“The team interaction, the frequency of spontaneous discussions both social and technical, and the team building aspect deliver more to the individual and the business than personal offices do. Building world-class software is a team sport, and the best teams are built via open space, not closed doors,” he said.

Music is part of that equation.

“We encourage everyone to bring their authentic selves to work, and because music can play a big part in our lives, we support bringing it into the office, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the workflows around them,” offerUp’s Angelillo said.

Caroline Gao, special to CNBC.com


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