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Listening to MP3 players at work is OK for some

For a growing number of workers, a day at the office or plant includes getting an earful from the Black-eyed Peas, The Clash or even Barry Manilow.

Grab the briefcase, cell phone, BlackBerry and MP3 player. The tell-tale, white ear bud cords of iPods are becoming as commonplace as ID badge lanyards as Americans go about their workday business.

There is no hard data on how many iPods and other digital audio devices are popping up in offices and cubicles, but considering Apple alone sold more than 35 million units in 2005, it is easily millions.

Nicole Sue Low Chee, a marketing coordinator at Buffalo's Appraisal.com, is a die-hard iPod user.

"I feel much more productive and focused when I'm listening to music," Low Chee said. "I go through phases. If I'm working fast I listen to electronic-based house music, punk or alternative. If I'm stressed and frazzled, I'll go completely the other way and listen to classical."

Low Chee's boss Mark Yellen, Appraisal.com's CEO has no problem with her iPod use, in fact, he's even suggested some artists she might want to add to her workplace soundtrack.

"There are certain jobs where an MP3 player can make a person more productive, if they're doing something boring or repetitive, or if they are working on their own and not interacting with clients," Yellen said.

That said, Yellen said it's a minority of his staffers for whom it's appropriate to be plugged in and tuned out.

"Most of our workers are on the phone all day or need to be interacting with co-workers. We don't have a formal policy either way. They're smart enough to know when it's OK to use them," Yellen said.

The Appraisal.com staff is probably more MP3 savvy than most. For Christmas 2004, Yellen gave each of his employees a digital audio player. In the past year, he said he "gave out iPods like candy," with more than 100 of the Apple players going to vendors, clients and employees to rewards extra effort.

"It's a nice incentive. They're fun, they're cool and people get a kick out of getting them," Yellen said.

Andrew Peterson, a Buffalo retail worker, listens to his MP3 player as he unpacks merchandise and stocks shelves, especially late at night.

"My boss doesn't care, as long as I'm getting the job done and don't sing along," Peterson said. "It makes the shift go a lot faster. I'm a happy boy when I'm listening to music."

Ruth Owens, an Orchard Park medical secretary, admitted her iPod serves dual purposes of entertainment and reducing co-workers interruptions.

"People don't come over and bother you as much when they see the headphone wires. They let you stay in your own little world," she said. "It's kind of like a 'Do Not Disturb' sign."

Frank Scanlan, spokesman for the Society for Human Resources Management, said he's personally noticed more workers with ear bud wires draping their shoulders, but it's not something that has triggered a wave of internal memos, or a rewriting of employee handbooks to address MP3 use.

For some employers, MP3 players pose more of a security issue, than one of productivity or etiquette. Data security experts warned information technology managers that the devices, intended for downloading entertainment media, can also be used to download and steal corporate data files.

The devices can also be used to download malware into systems that are protected from outside virus attacks.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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