I was asked recently, "Should people be 'allowed' to wear headphones at work?"

I saw a study that found the average person in an open office environment gets interrupted every 9 minutes. If they are doing general office work it takes 3 minutes to recover from the interruption. Recover meaning getting back to what you are doing with the same level of focus.

Let's do the math. Every 9 minutes means 6 times an hour, multiplied by 3 minutes to recover means 18 minutes lost. But wait there's more. We haven't factored in the actual interruption. If by some miracle the interruption only lasted 2 minutes then that's 6 interruptions/hour multiplied by 2 minutes, equals 12 minutes. Add that to your 18 minutes recovery and you just lost 30 minutes.

But wait there's more. The 3 minute recovery was only for general office work. Editing complex documents or doing accounting took 30 minutes to get back to the same level of accuracy and focus. Computer programming took 60 minutes.

Some interruptions are actually work related and others are just blurting. Blurting is when people just spontaneously say stuff because it happens to cross their mind.
"Did you see that movie...."

"I gotta tell you this joke..."

So in answer to should people be able to use headphones at work, the answer is it depends on:

1. What they are working on and their primary responsibility. Not for your receptionist.

2. Who are your co-workers. If you sit next to a blurter it's a must.