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Aural barriers protect workers

It’s a distant memory to me, but apparently barbers and hairdressers still chunter on to their customers as they snip and tease the cranial follicular extrusions: “Turned out nice again…although they’re forecasting snow…oh that Chancellor’s got a nerve cutting benefits and introducing new taxes, and have you seen the price of petrol these days…going anywhere nice on your holidays, then?

In case you hadn’t already guessed, hairdressers, like beauty therapists, nurses, taxi drivers and many others involved in one-to-one occupations (with the exception of doctors) are generally not interested in your responses to their verbal outpourings. The stream of consciousness, the unceasing gossip, the endless chit-chat is a barrier. An aural barrier they erect to create an auditory fog that lets them escape into their own world and focus on the task in hand whether that’s tussling with your tresses or taxiing you from A to Z…

There are many occupations that create a wall of sound around employees, factory work, construction, railway engineer etc and as such, those involved in that work are encapsulated by the sound or if it is above a certain threshold they wear ear protection which encapsulates them in what you might think of as a negative sound space. They might fancy a chat on the job but there’s no opportunity until a tea break comes along. For those who work in the not-so-splendid isolation of the office cubicle, the whirring of a printer, the background chatter of colleagues on the phone and the trundling of the post-room trolley set up the aural landscape for them. But, unless they’re engaged in a phone conversation themselves they need not create the kind of barrier needed by those working one-to-one, such as the hairdresser and taxi driver.

Recently, Harriet Shortt of the Department of Business and Management, at the University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, in Bristol, UK, has focused specifically on the auditory landscape of the hairdressing salon. In her research, reported in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, Shortt explains how employees construct their auditory barriers, or one might say, their imaginary escape routes, to help them cope with the constant emotional labour of their task. This is an especially important consideration in ensuring employee wellbeing and mental health where an occupation requires the employee to be constantly on display and offers little refuge behind the walls of a cubicle or in front of a screen or in the more naturally noisy environment of the factory floor, for instance.

Research Blogging IconShortt H. (2013). Sounds of the salon: the auditory routines of hairdressers at work, International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, 5 (4) 342. DOI:

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