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Why you shouldn't wear headphones while working

t4rzsan profile image Jakob Christensen Originally published at leruplund.dk on ・2 min read

There are lots of good reasons why you’d want to don headphones and listen to music while coding. They block out noise and help you concentrate. There are also a number of compelling reasons why you should not.

Disclaimer: Below is based on my own experience and may not be scientifically correct.

Here are three reasons why you should leave those headphones off:

  • Increased sensibility to noise : If you wear your noise reducing headphones all the time, eventually the noice free environment will be the new normal for you. It will be much harder for you to concentrate without your headphones.
  • Missing out on networking : At your workplace your colleagues will be talking, sharing knowledge and joking around. If you are wearing headphones you will miss out and you will create an invisible barrier between you and your peers making it harder for them to involve you.
  • Hearing loss :This is the most important point. I know I sound like your father but using headphones will dramatically increase the risk of hearing loss and tinnitus and neither can be cured. When I started coding for what seems a very long time ago I would put on my headphones to block away noice and concentrate. Sadly, I now have tinnitus. It is not something that bothers me in everyday life but it gets worse when I am tired or stressed out and then it is very annoying. I know that when you are young you think that you are invincible but please be careful.

Putting on headphones may be a great help if you work in an open office and the noise gets overhand. But please, please please, listen to this grumpy old man, and do it as little as possible 🙃

Discussion

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slavius profile image
Slavius

Just to clear some misconceptions.

I had some doubts about your tinnitus claims and after talking to my wife (doctor at ORL) she has confirmed them. Wearing headphones cannot be linked to development of tinnitus in normal conditions.

Tinnitus can develop in the following headphones scenarios:

  • You wear headphones with verly loud music for a long period of time regularly
  • You wear noise cancellation headphones and remove them in very noisy environment (sudden volume change, like someone screaming into your ear after putting them down)

I'm myself a long term headphones user, metal band player, loud music seeker and I have no tinnitus whatsoever (I'm almost 40).

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

Thank you so much for your feedback and for clearing that up.

It kind of makes sense now since I know excactly which day the tinnitus started: I was putting up a new fence and used a used a pile hammer to drive the fence posts into the ground without wearing ear protection. I just kind of figured that it was related to my general hearing loss. Whenever I do put on headphones my tinnitus gets a bit worse for a while afterwards.

I have never been listening to loud music with headphones - only at concerts and though speakers.

You must be in kind of a risk zone as a metal band player? Lots of rock musicians have hearing loss and tinnitus, right?

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slavius profile image
Slavius

Hi,

I should have written probably I'm a former metal band player. Not drumming anymore. But I still enjoy loud hard rock/ metal music anytime I'm alone ;)

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ymi_yugy profile image
Ymi_Yugy

I cannot concentrate with noise around me. So music is not an option, but just noise cancellation is certainly helpful.
Also when you are in flow and try to get things done you probably don't want to network or get interrupted and headphones show that. So maybe don't use them always, but they are certainly helpful sometimes

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

I agree headphones are helpful. Do you have a lot of noise in your office?

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ymi_yugy profile image
Ymi_Yugy

Well, I am still in college, no office, but the library where I spend a lot of time has a group work area that is quite loud and not properly separated from the quite study area.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

All valid points and I agree. I still use headphones when I need to shut everybody else out. Previously though, I put on my headphones by default. Now, the default is to not wear headphones.

Thanks for reading.

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grumpytechdude profile image
Alex Sinclair

Some really excellent points here! One take you might like is that a team tends to go through phases of working quietly and chatting. Which is great for getting work done, because it's naturally quiet and you'll all take a break at roughly the same time.
But in an open plan office, the team next to you may well be quiet when you're loud, and vice versa. Better office space certainly reduces the need for headphones.
And whene'er I work from home, I find I don't need them, or music, at all.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

It's true, sometimes there is like a general consensus on when to concentrate on work and when to talk. I think it is important for the employer to think about noise when choosing interior such as carpets, furniture and ceiling.

At home I sometimes put on low music on my Sonos speaker while working. It's a lot easier on my ears than headphone.

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ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

Not every office includes opportunities for networking. If you work in a co-working location (or like to work from someplace like the local coffee shop), you probably oughtn't be trying to network. If you work for a large organization where they tend to assign seats on a simple "as available" basis, the people around you may be no more relevant to your work than randos at a coffee shop.

If hearing loss is a concern, one can simply don hearing-protection earmuffs or even just good ear-plugs (Eargasms are great for both concerts and noisy offices).

...And, if you worked where I work, pretty sure you'd not have written this article. Some work-spaces simply aren't manageable without something to deaden, mask or drown-out the noise. On the plus side, the usual source of noise appears to be on PTO, today.

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Mukul Bichkar

I truly agree about losing out on networking with colleagues. Headphones make most sense in open offices or co-working spaces like WeWork when you are trying to get stuff done and there's too much noise in the background. Otherwise, it's much better to not wear headphones and use other productivity hacks/tools like Pomodoro time-boxing etc. to get more done.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

Pomodore is a great help. I tried it once but somehow forgot about it again.

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

Speak up I can't hear you? 😉 An interesting article I shall have to do an experiment on Monday.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

Let me know how it works out :-)

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tfutada profile image
Takashi Futada

no offense but all-or-nothing approach is not good. Occasionally headphones work while meditating. but as you said keep wearing it is not good. Everything in moderation.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

I am sorry if you read it as an all-or-nothing approach because that is not what I meant to convey. What I did write, though, was (and I quote):

please be careful

and also

[...] please, please please [...] do it as little as possible

Thanks for reading.

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tfutada profile image
Takashi Futada

So you might want to change the title
'Please don’t use headphones when working'
to something else.
It's misleading and sound baiting.

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t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen Author

I see your point and we sure don't like click baiting. I changed the title to Why you shouldn't wear headphones while working.

I hope you like it better?

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devadattamulay profile image
Devadatta

Interesting perspective..