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Amplify Your Culture

PEOPLE + LIFE: How integrating music in your workplace can crank up employee morale—and good vibes.


Music is always with me. In my home. In my car. In my office at work. On airplanes and in hotel rooms. Rhythms and melodies have helped me manage my energy, alleviate stress, and create joy, fun, and connections. And, yes, music helps me write. Coldplay; Earth, Wind & Fire; Harry Styles; and a few other artists kept me company as I wrote this.

I love how songs and music alter moods and trigger vivid memories. I remember a Prince song playing on the radio when I was 16 years old, driving my first car—a red Honda Civic—alone for the first time.

Decades later, music’s powers provided relief to my husband and me when we were new parents. Our infant daughter was magically and inexplicably calmed by a Simply Red song, “Sunrise.” No matter the time or place, hearing Mick Hucknall’s voice stopped her tears and took her to a peaceful place. When she was a teenager and was angry about something, I told her while we were driving that I could change her mood with one song. Her eye roll motivated me to prove my point. At a red light, I found Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and watched her fight a smile. She laughed and said, “That is so unfair.”

I think music deserves a bigger role in the workplace too, and I’ve made it my not-so-hidden-agenda to play music as often as possible during office gatherings. Some of my inspiration to do so comes from what I see and hear when I go to baseball games (and I go to a lot of baseball games). The stadium always plays a new batter’s walk-up song on their way to home plate, serving as a musical signature and a great way to pump up the player and the crowd.

Music has transformative powers to bring people together, including in the workplace."


So I often ask Chevron leaders who speak at our larger HR leadership team meetings to choose their own walk-up song to be played as they approach the stage. Not one has refused, including our CEO. What better way to break the ice with the audience than to explain why they chose the song and how it aligns with our business performance?

Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” were featured in past meetings. These walk-up songs let our HR team see these leaders in a different light, and the shared laughs build connective tissue. (My walk-up song is the “Mission Impossible” theme. It reminds me of the challenges HR and business leaders faced in the past few years, and it’s a confidence booster as we take on new challenges.)

I always notice when other companies give music a starring role in their culture. Several tech companies I’ve visited play music in their lobbies at mood-setting levels, not just in the background. Imagine hearing catchy songs as you start your day or head out for lunch. Imagine the pleasant surprise for visitors as they hear a song in the lobby that gives them a pep in their step just before an important meeting.

A song or playlist curated for a meeting or dinner can create magical and memorable moments. A colleague recently started a meeting with TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” to set expectations for a certain agenda topic. Years ago, on the day Tom Petty passed away, “Free Fallin’ ” was played before we launched into our agenda, and we all sang along to honor the life of a great musician.

We’ve used playlists to energize our offsites and at dinners to celebrate retirements and project milestones. Before a recent retirement event in our executive dining room, I put on a playlist as our dinner staff set up the room. “This dinner will be different,” one person said, as everyone smiled, swayed, and sang quietly as they worked.

As I said, my agenda is not hidden. I think more people should play music at work. Develop a playlist for team dinners. People will share stories about a song and let their guard down to sing along. Music has transformative powers to bring people together, including in the workplace.   

Rhonda Morris is vice president and CHRO at Chevron.