Can you be on call and play music at the same time?

Being “on call” refers to an employee arrangement where workers are required to be available outside of their normal working hours in case they are needed by their employer. Employees who are on call must be ready to report to work on short notice if called upon by their company.

It’s crucial for on call employees to be reachable and able to respond promptly when contacted by their employer. This allows companies to handle unexpected issues or increased demands even when their regular staff isn’t working. Being available when on call is an important responsibility that helps maintain business continuity.

However, being on call can also present challenges in one’s personal life. Listening to music while on call, for example, has the potential to make employees less attentive to alerts from their employer. This section will explore the pros and cons of listening to music while being on call.

Benefits of Listening to Music

Listening to music while being on call has been shown to provide a number of benefits, especially when it comes to reducing stress and boosting productivity. Research has found that listening to music activates regions of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating events in our memory ( This can help keep the mind more engaged during mundane on call tasks. Additionally, music has long been known to have mood-boosting effects. According to one study, listening to music releases dopamine in the brain — a “feel good” neurotransmitter that can ease feelings of stress and anxiety ( This can be particularly helpful for those on call duty, as waiting for calls or alerts can sometimes be a stressful experience. Music provides a positive distraction, allowing you to relax and stay focused at the same time.

Beyond just improving mood, research has also found that listening to music can actually enhance productivity and motivation ( The right kind of music puts us in a more positive frame of mind, which fuels our desire to be productive. Upbeat music also seems to increase energy levels and stimulate brain activity in regions responsible for attention, motivation and problem solving. So listening to your favorite playlist could give you the mental boost you need to power through repetitive on call work or finish important tasks more efficiently.

Overall, music makes the on call experience more enjoyable. Turning routine monitoring work into a more positive experience improves morale and satisfaction. Being able to listen to music provides a nice perk for on call employees that can offset some of the inconvenience of being on call in the first place.

Potential Drawbacks of Music While On Call

While listening to music can help pass the time and boost mood, there are some potential drawbacks to consider when listening while on call:

Music can be distracting and prevent focus on the primary task of paying attention for alerts (Source: Lyrics and catchy melodies may divert attention away from listening for important notifications.

Lyrics may interfere with comprehension and communication if you need to suddenly switch focus to taking a call (Source: Lyrics heard simultaneously while trying to communicate can be confusing.

The volume must be kept low enough to hear alerts come through, which may diminish your music listening experience.

Types of Music Best Suited for On Call Work

When choosing music to listen to during an on call shift, it’s best to avoid music with lyrics that could be distracting. Instead, focus on instrumental music without lyrics. According to Indeed, classical music is an effective type to listen to while working because of its focus on piano, strings or woodwinds without distracting lyrics. Slow tempo acoustic or classical instrumental music can provide pleasant background noise without pulling your attention away from your on call duties.

In addition to classical or acoustic instrumental music, listening to nature sounds or other ambient noise can be an effective option during an on call shift according to HubSpot. The sounds of nature, rain, or other ambient noise can block out distracting environmental sounds without lyrics that could divert your attention when you need to be alert for responding to calls or alerts.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

When listening to music while on call, it’s important to set yourself up in a way that allows you to be attentive and responsive when a call comes in. Here are some tips:

Have a plan for quickly pausing music when a call comes in. Be ready to pause your music instantly when you receive an alert that a call is coming in. Having a set plan, like double tapping your headset or using a pre-set button on your phone, will make this quick reaction second nature.

Use a single earbud to keep one ear free. Only use one earbud instead of two so you can dedicate your open ear to listening for alerts and calls. This setup will allow you to enjoy music while staying alert. Just be sure to use the earbud in the ear opposite your dominant hearing side so calls come in clear.

Set music volume low enough to hear alerts. Keep your music volume much lower than you normally would so alerts, ringtones, and call noises are audible over your music. Test different volume levels to find the right balance between enjoying music and hearing what’s around you.

Alternative Options to Music

If you find music too distracting while on call, there are a few alternative options that may help you stay focused:

White noise or ambient sounds like rain or ocean waves can provide soothing background noise without being distracting like music. Some find these types of steady, unobtrusive sounds are the best for concentration and productivity.

Podcasts or audiobooks allow you to dive into a story without music pulling your attention away. Narrative audio content engages your mind differently than music.

Short mindfulness exercises, such as taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing or do a quick seated meditation, can refresh your focus between calls without distracting background audio.

Policies Around Music During On Call Shifts

Many companies have policies around listening to music or using headphones while on call. These policies aim to balance employee satisfaction with ensuring on-call staff can respond promptly when needed.

Typical company policies may prohibit listening to music while actively working on a client issue or request. However, some policies allow employees to listen to music at a reasonable volume in one earbud when not actively engaged. The key is being able to immediately pause the music and focus when an urgent issue arises.

Companies want to avoid potential liability issues if an on-call employee misses a critical alert due to wearing headphones. As this employment law firm explains, companies have the right to regulate music in the workplace and implement policies restricting headphones:

Well-crafted policies balance employee morale with responding promptly to urgent on-call issues. The policy should clearly state when music is allowed, any volume restrictions, and the requirement to immediately pause music when actively responding to an alert.

Test It Out

Before listening to music during a high-stakes on call shift when you really need to be alert, try listening during a low-stakes practice shift first. This will allow you to test out listening to music without worrying about missing an important alert.

During the practice shift, experiment with listening to different music genres, from acoustic to electronic dance music. Try listening at different volumes as well, from quietly in the background to louder through headphones. Pay attention to how the music impacts your focus and ability to respond to practice alerts. Adjust the genre and volume until you find what works best for you without being too distracting.

The goal is to figure out your ideal music setup to stay alert and focused during real on call shifts. Don’t be afraid to tweak your playlist and preferences until you get it right. With some testing during lower-stakes times, you can determine if music helps or hinders your on call work.

Paying Attention to Alerts

It’s essential to be able to stay aware of alerts, calls, and notifications while playing music on call. Here are some techniques to help:

Set your ringer volume to always be above your music volume. On an iPhone, enable the “Change with Buttons” setting to make sure the ringer volume can stay higher when you adjust volume. On Android, separate app volume and ringer volume controls will have the same effect [1].

Try listening on only one earbud to keep your other ear available. Some people naturally focus better with a single listening source.

Pause the music any time you need complete focus for a challenging task. Don’t underestimate the distraction of background audio.

Consider speech-based playlists and podcasts which don’t require your full attention. They allow focusing on work while absorbing content.

Check in regularly with yourself that you aren’t too absorbed in the music. Stay aware of notifications and check for any you may have missed.

With the right balance and discipline, you can enjoy music’s benefits without missing crucial calls and alerts.


In summary, music while on call can work but requires some careful planning and adjustments. The key is to stay focused, pay full attention to alerts, and be willing to pause music when needed. Instrumental music or familiar songs on low volume tend to be the least distracting options. Test different music styles to see what allows you to stay productive while still hearing alerts. Consider using just one headphone or portable speakers to keep one ear free. Stay flexible and don’t be afraid to tweak your setup over time to find what works best for your specific on call needs. The goal is to strike the right balance between enjoying music’s benefits while remaining fully attentive to your on call responsibilities.

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