Benefits and Compensation

New Wellness Benefit: Teaching Employees How to Play Musical Instruments

HR managers are always looking for new, effective benefits to offer their employees. I have recently learned of a unique and engaging benefit: providing the tools and space for your employees to learn and play musical instruments at work.

Source: Maria Savenko / shutterstock

I spoke with Ethan Kaplan, General Manager at Fender Digital, and Bhawna Provenzano, Director of Employee Benefits and Diversity at Zappos. These two companies have recently teamed up to roll out this one-of-a-kind employee benefit. Fender gave Zappos access to an app called Fender Play that helps novice musicians learn to play instruments. Additionally, Zappos created a room where, on break or during lunch, employees may begin to learn to play an instrument, practice, or jam with their coworkers.

The Goal

Provenzano says that once she heard about the program, she immediately saw its potential. She explained that this benefit “really fits in with our wellness program, and it fits in with a couple of our pillars.” Specifically, the benefit fits with the mind and body pillars that Zappos espouses.

The benefits of even just listening to music have long been well understood. Playing music has also come with a host of mental and health benefits. That’s just another reason that Provenzano wanted this benefit to become a reality. She explained that “it’s one of those things where it’s fun and it’s building social engagement and connection. But it also relieves stress, which is what I was mostly interested in.”

Fender has also conducted research into the benefits of learning an instrument. Kaplan told me that it explored “the psychological effects of playing.” When people play, they use a lot of various biological systems in concert, a phenomenon that Kaplan calls “psycho-acoustic motor skill.” He explains that it involves “motor skills with two hands, as well as all kinds of therapeutic ways of dealing with tone and dealing with tempo.” What does it all mean? Kaplan says that “people are really using learning guitar as a way of disconnecting.” As any HR manager knows, stress at work is a serious issue. Any benefit that can help employees disconnect could be very attractive to them.

Mixing Work and Outside Life for Great Effect

The program is still fairly young, but Provenzano has already seen positive results. She remarked that when the company had its open house for the new benefit, “we had so many different people coming in that normally don’t engage with our wellness programs.” Not only was it engaging new people, but it also gave people an opportunity to bring a skill from home into the workplace. Provenzano says, “They were so, so good, and you couldn’t even believe that they have those skills.” Even the most encouraging workplaces often struggle to find ways for employees to harness their hobbies and skills in the workplace.

In fact, there can be a lot of value for employers in allowing their employees to bring their outside interests and talents into the workplace. Kaplan calls it “showing your weirdness.” He recognized that Zappos has a culture that is “all about celebrating everybody’s individualism and creativity and what that brings to work.” Fender certainly makes use of this technique at its office. Kaplan explained, “It’s rare to ever walk around and there’s not a guitar in somebody’s hand … that creates a point of discussion and interaction. It keeps people off the computer for a minute, which can help people regroup, before they dive right back in.”

One of the other ways that this kind of program can be of value in the workplace surrounds vulnerability. For details about how powerful vulnerability can be in creating successful engagement in the workplace, it was the focus of a recent HR Works Podcast. But in short, when people can be vulnerable with each other, they can trust each other and build long-lasting relationships at work that can be very positive for everyone involved, including the workplace. Kaplan identifies “being creative as inherently vulnerable. It’s putting yourself really out there.”

As a musician myself, I can assure you that playing music with others makes you very vulnerable—especially when it’s for the first time. Kaplan describes the relationship between vulnerability and playing music best when he says that being creative builds trust “within a team that has to depend on each other, not in a ‘trust fall’ way, but in a way that really depends on each other to do the jobs they do to the best of their ability. Having that degree of vulnerability solidifies the interdependencies between people.” And that statement is as true for playing music together as it is about working together as a team.