Harley-Davidson bans headphones and music from factories

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:00 am

A leaked corporate memo has workers buzzing. No, not the Yahoo order for telecommuters to move into the office. It's a new edict at Harley-Davidson:

No more music on the factory floors.

Like many manufacturers around the country, the motorcycle maker has decided that headphones, boom boxes and piped-in music get in the way of plant safety and productivity.

Harley-Davidson officers said music had proved to be a distraction from the work at hand and a potential hazard.

Irv Robinson, owner of Robbie Fantastic Flexibles, a plant in Lenexa, Kan., that makes printed plastic packaging, is in full accord with the new Harley rule.

“We don't allow music,” Robinson said. “It's a safety problem. And we make our guys wear earplugs anyway. We can't add to the existing noise.”

Other major manufacturing operations allow music in some form. At the General Motors Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., for example, workers can't wear headphones, but they can play small radios at low volume — low enough that sounds won't override plantwide information. Ford Motor Co. declined to comment on the policies in its plants.

The music issue crops up in offices and stores as well as factories. When music is allowed in the workplace, it sometimes causes co-worker clashes because tastes differ. So, too, do workers' abilities to tune out distractions.

Bothering co-workers with your own musical tastes “could be considered like smoking — you're affecting those around you,” said Connie Russell, a Kansas City, Mo.-area leadership coach and consultant. “You want to be respectful to others.”

Music listeners point out that with headphones, music doesn't have to be shared. But headphones are safety impediments if music drowns out the sounds of machinery or announcements that workers need to hear.

The Harley ban prompted a flurry of online postings from workers who argued that music breaks up the monotony of work and helps morale.

Researchers have reported that music both helps and hurts productivity. Generally, classical or other music without lyrics gets a green light. One study even concluded that cows give more milk when listening to classical music.

But louder music, especially with lyrics, has been found to impair concentration on the job. That was especially true in workplaces where different kinds of music vied for dominance or when co-workers disagreed about choices.

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