The surprising popularity of workplace choirs

It may be growing in popularity, but is there anything substantive to this new wellness trend?

The Ghent Altarpiece: Singing Angels by Jan van Eyck
  • Workplace choirs are becoming increasingly popular in the U.K. and USA, particularly in companies such as Boeing, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google.
  • Proponents tout choirs as a way to avoid employee burnout, and the research seems to suggest they're right.
  • Singing in choirs comes with a slew of psychosocial benefits that can make the workday a little more bearable.

In some workplaces, you might find yourself taking a break from filling out TPS reports to working on hitting the high notes of "Bohemian Rhapsody." More and more businesses are encouraging their employees to start work choirs to improve their physical and mental health and promote social cohesion.

It might seem like an odd solution, but workplace choirs are an effective response to employee burnout. A recent Gallup study found that 23 percent of employees feel burned out at work often or all the time, and another 44 percent feels burned out some of the time. Employees who feel burned out are more than twice as likely to actively seek out other employment and 63 percent more likely to take sick days. They're less confident in their performance, less likely to work with their managers toward goals, and more likely to visit the emergency room.

How did workplace choirs come to be and what are the benefits?

But why is singing being implemented as a solution to this? Part of the reason has to be attributed to the popularity of the 2012 British TV show, The Choir: Sing While You Work, in which choirmaster Gareth Malone trains amateur workplace-based choirs to compete against one another. Over time, more and more businesses in the U.K. began implementing workplace choirs, including Wellington Place's workplace choir in the video below.

Now, it's not just U.K.-based businesses that are assembling choirs. Boeing, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have their own choirs as well, and Google has its own a capella group called Googapella. The city of Cincinnati even has its own city-wide choir competition called CincySings that pits different company choirs together.

Jordan Shue, a representative of Americans for the Arts, told the Chorus Connection blog that "[An employee choir] is a way to show employees that you value them and want them to have fun at work. It also challenges them to show their creative sides and work as a team on a project vastly different from what they do in the office day to day. That can have a huge impact on the way they work together in the future and how connected they feel to their company."

Research backs this up, too. Choirs have been shown to promote a sense of togetherness and social cohesion. Choral singing can be good for your heart as well and can even cause the heart rates of choral group members to rise and fall in tandem. Choirs reduce stress and depression, improve respiratory health and self-esteem, and stimulate cognition. And, crucially for the workplace, singing promotes social bonding.

There's a good reason why so many companies set time aside for often-underwhelming team-building exercises. Human beings can't simply spend 8 hours a day as robots; they need to bond with other human beings and be social. Doing so doesn't just make for happier workers, it also makes for more productive ones — both because of improved personal outcomes and because of the interpersonal connections that singing promotes.

Not a new idea

While implementing a choir in the workplace might seem like something of a fad or a product of a modern-day obsession with creating hip workplaces, singing at work is actually quite old — ancient, in fact. Musician Ted Gioia's book Work Songs explores the many different historical contexts where laborers sang during their work, whether that was enslaved plantation workers, miners, chain gangs, oyster shuckers, or any other kind of laborers.

"It made the work less arduous, it made the hours roll by," said Gioia. "It allowed them to have some sort of mastery over their work conditions, which were often very demeaning ones." Though one might make argue that this kind of hard labor differs significantly from the modern, sterile office, the rising rates of worker burnout belies that contrast and underscore the value of music in the workplace.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Artist rendering of a supervolcano.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
  • The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
  • The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men.
Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…