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Hello everyone. Janina here, filling in for Isabel.
When working at home I like to stream soft background noise. My current favourite — especially as London remains unseasonably hot — is Summer Beach Sounds on YouTube. The soothing waves are accompanied by the sound of gulls and families playing.
I find these sounds help me to be more productive. But more so, I find they lighten the mood. They help me feel less isolated when there are no humans to interact with during my work day.
The fact that these types of sounds can help focus the mind is not new. According to my colleague Andrew Hill, the FT first started writing about the benefits of ambient noise back in 1985.
With hybrid work leading to more alone time at home — or if coping with office distractions is a struggle as we gradually return — the use of such noise seems to be more widespread.
Just last week I came across two fascinating pieces that explored different types of these background sounds.
The first was by the FT’s San Francisco correspondent Dave Lee, who wrote about the popularity of Lofi Girl — a nonstop playlist of low fidelity beats featuring a chat window where users leave positive comments for one another.
Another article explored ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos, which may be the sound of keys tapping or crinkling wrapping paper. However, this fried chicken ASMR video doesn’t quite do it for me.
I tend to favour noise that replicates the sounds of places where there are people milling about. It’s really the feeling of connection without actually having to talk to someone that appeals. Unsurprisingly, it’s why I like working in cafés — I am with everyone and no one.
Have you turned to any particular sounds to help you concentrate? Or do you long for golden silence? Let us know in the comments below, or at [email protected] (Janina Conboye)
Psychedelics are the latest employee health benefit
In recent years microdosing psychedelics has become more mainstream, but drugs are still a workplace taboo. Still, some business leaders and HR professionals are evangelising ketamine-assisted therapy as an increasingly popular health benefit for employees.
Ketamine is legal for medical use in the US and UK, and while it’s most widely used as an anaesthetic, studies have found ketamine is useful in treating depression and other mental illness. As rates of mental illness increased by more than 25 per cent in the first year of the pandemic, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization, ketamine-assisted therapy gained popularity as a mental health treatment.
Jason Duprat, a nurse anaesthetist who teaches other healthcare providers how to best provide therapeutic ketamine, says that enrolment in his Ketamine Academy has increased 15 per cent every year since he founded it in 2017. But it has only been in the past two years that he has seen the term “ketamine-assisted psychotherapy” becoming popularised.
Shane Metcalf, co-founder and chief people and culture officer at 15Five, an HR software provider, plans to make his business the first tech company to offer psychedelic benefits sometime this year. 15Five would be following the lead of soapmaker Dr. Bronner’s, which is among the first US companies to offer such benefits.
“We’re not talking about recreational use,” says Shane. “It’s a completely different experience to take [it] with a therapist who is guiding you, and allowing you to gain new perspective.”
Sherry Rais, co-founder and co-CEO of Enthea, the psychedelic healthcare provider that partnered with Dr. Bronner’s, says 8 per cent of the 450 employees and covered family members have used the benefit so far. Dr. Bronner’s programme is a pilot for Enthea, but they have at least 25 other employers who have expressed interest in rolling out psychedelic benefits.
Making psychedelic therapy an employee benefit “solves a lot of the issues” that come with accessibility, affordability, and the stigma attached to psychedelics as a medical treatment, says Steven Huang, who works on the intersection of diversity, equity and inclusion and psychedelics at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “Suddenly it’s like, ‘oh, my employer is giving me safety to do this.’”
In-person rounds of ketamine can cost upwards of $5,000. A telemedicine option can be roughly a tenth of that — and having an employer cover that cost makes it even more accessible. Steven, who has worked in HR for tech companies like Facebook and Square and has seen companies offer lots of different services in the name of wellness, says ketamine-assisted therapy is a relatively affordable benefit for companies to offer.
Shane and Steven agree that ketamine-assisted therapy can be especially useful for leaders. “Unresolved traumas come through in our leadership styles,” says Shane. Psychedelics can make us more open to new ideas, more compassionate, and can facilitate more nuanced conversations.
Shane predicts that lots more companies will begin offering psychedelic mental health benefits in the next two to four years. “When you have people healing themselves, [they’re] going to treat people better. [They’re] going to have more concern for the whole human rather than seeing them as transactional cogs in the machine,” he says. “There is a better way to do business.” (Sophia Smith)
Would you do ketamine-assisted therapy if your employer offered it as a benefit? Let us know in this week’s poll.
Listen in: How to leave your job
This week on the Working It podcast, we talk about how (and how not) to communicate the news that you are leaving your job. It’s an art, and too many people do it very badly. I talk to an expert, Erica Dhawan — who previously appeared on our episode about digital communication at work — about crafting a “good exit” that might leave the door open for you to return, or to build networks in future. She also has tips for managers on how to deal with resignations, or forced redundancies.
Next week we will be rerunning one of our most popular episodes: how transparent should you be about pay? Featuring the FT’s Brooke Masters and Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, a company where everyone’s pay is published online. (My colleague Pilita Clark recently wrote this excellent column about pay transparency, featuring Joel and Buffer). (Isabel Berwick)
Elsewhere in the world of work:
Should you invest in taking a sabbatical? On this week’s Money Clinic, host Claer Barrett looks at the rise of workers taking extended pauses from their jobs. It’s worth weighing the pros and cons of taking one.
Debates on WFH must include what ‘home’ actually is: Often, the “pressures” of WFH are a euphemism for caretaking responsibilities, but there is a literal interpretation, too. Remote workers who lack amenities like central air conditioning or a dedicated home office feel strained in a way that employers must recognise.
Employee ownership can make work fairer: The positive effects of giving workers a stake in their companies are far-reaching. When workers have the opportunity to profit-share, it leads to higher engagement, better retention and higher profits.
Discovering the secrets to productivity . . . at Legoland: On a visit to the amusement park with his son, Tim Harford assesses the attraction with economist’s eyes. Bottlenecks, cyclical investments, the use of new technologies and a dash of behavioural psychology all play a part in optimising productivity.
Can a city be redesigned for the new world of work? City centres are undergoing a moment of radical change. An opportunity has emerged to transform dull or shuttered spaces into new hubs of activity — and for workers (and their bosses) to engage more equitably with the urbanity around them.
Constructive criticism is tricky. It’s difficult to give — and receive — but there is a science behind giving better feedback that actually works. We asked FT readers for their best tips and anecdotes about receiving feedback at work.
Reader CHSS points out that different styles of giving feedback are hugely dependent on local culture:
In Latin America, it seemed that there were only two possible states: people avoided conflict and didn’t say anything — or they would just explode. In the Netherlands, they just spoke their mind — no filter whatsoever. You would know instantly if the other person liked what you did or not, and you would know exactly why. In the UK, I find that most people are too polite to say anything that they think might be hurtful, which turns most feedback processes into a significant waste of time.
Reader whydowebother shares lessons from sensitive wealth managers:
I used to collect feedback from investors on company managements. It used to amaze me how difficult the recipients found it to depersonalise the feedback and to understand how the comments were about their actions and not their value as human beings.
At the other end of the [spectrum], as a parent, I have been reminded many times that I should criticise the child’s actions — but not the child, eg what you did was stupid, not you’re stupid.
And reader Sunny London identifies some characteristics that people who are good at feedback tend to share:
On some level you need to be curious and like people. I’ve never had a great manager or leader who didn’t like people and who wasn’t interested in the “why”. Something [Esther] wrote seemed the most important advice of all: run away from toxic bosses. Avoid toxic organisations and people at all costs. It isn’t worth your mental and physical health. I give this advice regularly to my kids.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Read more responses in FT Magazine.
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