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Aussie business owner sparks AirPods at work debate: 'Dropping morale'

Experts have weighed in on whether its ever appropriate to have your earbuds in while on the job - but what do you think?

Two women wear earbuds while working.
Many bosses are opposed to workers wearing AirPods, but it may be bad for office morale if they are banned altogether. (Source: Getty)

A frustrated Aussie business owner has sparked debate among fellow bosses after questioning whether employees using AirPods to make personal calls while on the job is ever appropriate. The woman, who owns and runs a mechanics workshop with her husband, has taken issue with her staff — including a new apprentice — listening to music and taking long calls while on the job.

She said the apprentice “was openly chatting away and fitting me in between his conversation”.

Many fellow Aussies responding to her online supported her position, saying the employees should be concentrating on their work and showing her respect. Others, however, suggested the boss should be flexible.

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“If it’s not affecting their performance, I wouldn’t do anything,” one said.

Another wrote she “can’t see why an occasional call would be 'not on’... they are still people with a life outside or work”. A third advised: “You would be dropping morale to treat them like kids."

Opinion seemed to be split down generational lines, with many younger bosses arguing that it didn't matter if the workers wore headphones as long as they got their jobs done.

Man texts in a mechanics workshop.
In some workplaces wearing earphones could be a safety risk. (Source: Getty)

Joydeep Hor, a lawyer and management consultant at People + Culture Strategies told Yahoo Finance that depending on the type of workplace it is wearing headphones could be bad for your brand.

He said it would be reasonable for bosses to ban headphones for workers who face customers.

“People are coming into an organisation for the first time, and they see the receptionist who’s got earphones in,” he said.

"The perception arguably is that ‘you’re distracting me from listening to my music’. As opposed to, ‘I’m here to greet you and welcome you, and that’s my priority.’”

Some bosses commenting on the workshop owner's post also said the use of the devices in her workplace would be a safety issue and pointed out it would be safer to just listen to music on the radio.

“Honestly, it’s a court case waiting to happen,” one wrote.

Hor agreed, telling Yahoo Finance there would be a safety risk "if people were not able to hear warning sounds, or messages from co-workers".

“If the wearing of headsets was preventing an employee from satisfying this duty, then it would be reasonable to request that the employee not wear the headset while working."

Man sits in front of his laptop wearing headphones.
in open plan offices, listening to something on your headphones can help workers to concentrate. (Source: Getty)

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A spokesperson from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) told Yahoo Finance wearing headphones “would be subject to a health and safety risk assessment” as required by law.

The AMWU spokesperson said, however, “if there is no health and safety issue and it does not impede the worker carrying out the inherent requirements of their employment, why would an employer not allow their use?”

Hor said even if an employee insists they’re more productive with headphones on, their boss legally has the final say.

For those working in open plan offices, one expert is sympathetic to those who wear headphones.

Dr Libby Sander, the MBA director and assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond University, said research “shows that the most distracting thing in an open plan office is speech”.

“So people are often wearing headphones in open plan offices. Not to be rude or dismissive of their colleagues, but actually so that they can concentrate.”

Dr Libby Sander stands in an office.
Libby Sander said that for people in open plan workplaces headphones can help to increase productivity. (Source: Supplied)

Hor, however, said wearing headphones at his office wouldn’t fly.

“We encourage and want people to be really across the things that are going on,” he said. “And a lot of that happens through conversations and calls that are taking place.”

He said open plan is popular with many managers because “they actually like the energy that they see and say is created by a bit more noise.”

Hor also said overhearing conversations can be educational as it exposes junior staff to how more senior people deal with clients.

“If they had headphones on, then that would be a learning opportunity that was missed.”

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