Dear Salty, I’m a barista/server at a small café where the French owners are very enthusiastic about the whole French thing—Eiffel Tower photos, signs in French, etc. They also play a playlist of a few dozen French songs throughout the day, and after 4 months on the job, I’m about to lose it.
The soundtrack never changes, and a solid half of it is Edith Piaf. I practically know French now. You’d think I’d be able to tune it out more as time goes on, but it’s the opposite, it’s making me more distracted. The café isn’t busy between breakfast and lunch, so I often have down time when I’m cleaning and just listening to the same songs over and over and over. My other coworkers agree with me, but I’m afraid the owners will think it’s trivial if I bring it up, or think we’re whiny. But seriously, it’s making me crazy. HELP?
Anything But La Vie En Rose
Dear Vie En Rose,
Congratulations, you’ve found the only thing worse than a repetitive soundtrack: a kitschy repetitive soundtrack.
Awful workplace soundtracks are a point of solidarity among servers and retail workers—so, so much sympathy for Gap employees subjected to James Blunt or whatever—but it’s more than a joke, it can be a serious problem.
Just last month, a bunch of Starbucks workers complained they couldn’t stand one more day of listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. They pointed out that not only does the playlist repeat every two hours but it has multiple versions of the same songs on it. Add to that the fact that musical theater isn’t everyone’s cup of Tazo tea… Some workers compared the repetition to the torture techniques used at Guantanamo. Seriously, they’d had it up to here with Hamilton. And it’s not the first time this has come up. A psychologist told a British newspaper years ago that repetitive holiday music can be “mentally draining” for employees. Seems like finally, people are starting to ask: What does it do to our brains to hear the same songs over and over, and is it a worker’s right to not be subjected to it?
An employer should make the workplace as productive as possible for employees, so I’d say you have grounds to bring this up not just on a personal level (totally valid) but on a professional level, too. With the backing of your coworkers, start off gently with your employers. (No need to accuse them of musical torture right away.) The best course of action might be to try to frame it as a proactive thing, so you don’t seem “whiny,” like you said. Try: “Hey Francois and Marie-Claire, some of the other employees and I found this great playlist of contemporary French music. I thought maybe we could try playing it in the cafe?” Who knows, maybe they’ll agree to switch the music up right off the bat.
If they don’t jump at that, wait another couple days and raise the issue in a more direct way: “Some of us have noticed the playlist repeats every two hours. We like the music, but it’s actually distracting to hear the same songs again and again. I think we’d actually be able to focus more on our work if we could switch up the music more often.” That frames it as a productivity issue, which would hopefully reason enough for the owners to hear you out. If they still don’t budge, well, then it’s up to you to decide just how much of it you can take. If a few of you band together to say “this music goes, or we go,” you’d hope they’d change their tune. Literally.
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