In case you missed it, new research from AVS Forum polled 800 individuals for perceptions of people who wear headphones at work, at the gym and on public transportation. The full summary graph appears below (email subscribers, click through to my site if you don't see the graph).
TL:DR: Headphones don't make you viewed as pretentious as you might think - they've never been more accepted in the workplace, which makes 100% sense given the open floor plans in most of our organizations.
One thing that the research didn't address was level of employee - my gut tells me headphones are most accepted for individual contributors, and maybe even for those who want to remain individual contributors for the foreseeable future.
So let's talk about upward mobility and headphone/earbud use.
First up - I'm not anti-headphones or a member of the abolish headphones at work party. I get it - people can get into a groove with certain types of jobs (creative, transactional, etc.) with the vibe that music provides. That's cool and I'm all for it. I also get that headphones are often an attractive option for dealing with the noise intrusion that comes with living in a cube environment.
But here's the reality that goes along with headphones in the workplace:
1) Managers of people probably need to limit their headphone time. Managers can't afford to not be aware of their surroundings and be approachable. Managers take calls and walk-ins from other managers, external partners and their superiors who put them in the job in the first place. More importantly, managers are expected to be available for the teams they lead. Nothing says, "I'm not approachable" more than a manager wearing headphones or earbuds.
Well, maybe a closed door all the time says that to a greater extent. But you get my point.
2) Employees who want to be upwardly mobile into the manager ranks typically take less headphone time. The type of employee who migrates into a managerial role is naturally available. They thrive on the walk-in traffic and a service orientation to those who approach them. For that reason, they wear headphones less than others. The resulting service and approachability contribute to the organizational logic that they're good candidates to manage people.
So, if you are wearing headphones and are productive - ROCK ON. It's all good and whatever makes you productive is a good thing.
Just be aware of what that says about your desire to lead teams if you have them on for 5-6 hours a day....
I'm just sayin'.....