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Wearing headphones in the office is career poison

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY With today's open workspaces -- which often translate to noisy, crowded cubicle farms -- and lots of meticulous work to be done on computer screens, people are increasingly wearing headphones throughout the work day, listening to their own personal work of music to drown out the surrounding universe of chatter and noise. The Harvard Business Review recently zeroed in on this trend, and identified several reasons why isolating yourself with headphones is bad for you personally and bad for the business.

The key problem with an army of headphone-wearing knowledge workers is that everyone is isolated from everyone else -- and that adds up to a lack of the traditional, organic collaboration that used to be a part of the DNA of office life. Even if you are quick to remove headphones when someone needs your attention, the reality is that you're missing out on a lot of incidental communication that is critical to the long-term welfare of both you and your co-workers.

Headphones isolate you from advancement opportunities. First and foremost, consider that headphones keep you from taking a part in the ambient experience of the office -- random chatter, news, discussions, and conversation. You might well be wearing headphones specifically to drown that sort of thing out, but that informal exchange is part of the personality of the office. By excluding yourself from it, you are effectively out of the loop, and losing a part of your essential career development.

Headphones prevent you from percolating new ideas. Most innovation and collaboration doesn't happen in scheduled meetings -- it happens informally, at your desk, chatting with others. When you cut yourself off from that experience, you lose the most common avenue to innovation, and the company becomes less competitive in the process.

What's the climate like in your organization? Do headphones and the technological isolation they bring limiting opportunities there? Are people less social? Sound off in the comments below.

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