How this CEO is using music to increase productivity and happiness


Left: Laura Florez, Sandeep Kumar, Aggarwal, Andrea Arroyo, and Janaina Jimenez


There is something different in the air at SKA Management. Every day, its CEO, Sandeep Kumar Aggarwal, fills these spaces with a certain kind of music, and its effects are immediate. Music is a natural addition to the work life here, and a testament to its transmutational and adaptive powers.

“We set our sights on happiness,” says Aggarwal. “If our associates aren’t happy, we will struggle to get quality results. People also thrive in environments that connect their natural talents to their aspirations. This is why we encourage our team members to choose the environment that best develops them toward their objective.”

With so much of our work now being done at computers, music has become a vital tool to increase happiness. The effortless connection that music can have to our emotional lives makes it a crucial add-on to the office milieu.

Let’s take a look at the research.

“In biological terms, melodious sounds help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain, as would eating a delicacy, looking at something appealing or smelling a pleasant aroma,” Dr. Amit Sood, a physician of integrative medicine with the Mayo Clinic, offers.

He further adds that people’s minds tend to wander, “And we know that the wandering mind can lead to unhappy thoughts. Most of that time, we are focusing on the imperfections of life.” Music, however, allows the mind to commingle with the task at hand, syncing us up to the present moment.

As one of the triumphs of human creation, music is not only inspired by inventive minds but also can inspire creativity. Dr. Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, affirms that “It breaks you out of just thinking one way.”

Dr. Lesiuk’s research focuses on how music affects workplace performance. In one study involving IT specialists, she found that those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who did not because the music improved their mood.

“When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” she said. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take into account more options.”

Dr. Lesiuk found that personal choice in music was very important. She allowed participants in her study to select whatever music they liked and to listen for as long as they wanted.

In a noisy workplace, music may be an escape.

Despite the somewhat variable effects of music on the individual, one feature is apparent: a noisy workplace can be a fatal swarm on productivity. SKA Management provides brightly-colored headphones to help eliminate distractions.

Ambient sounds may be the creative sweet spot between virulent noise and pin-drop silence in the workplace. For those who do benefit from listening to music during creative sessions, an atmospheric presence of music appears to work best.

Researchers have shown that a moderate noise level can really get creative juices flowing. A 2015 study found that with sound-masking, natural sounds such as beach waves improved subjects’ concentration. Research also implies that music with especially low-lows or high-highs should be avoided. Deep basses and screeching synths might get a listener energized, but when engaging in deep work, mellow sounds are more complementary.

Choice of music is important. Lyrics can be very distracting.

At SKA, Sandeep Kumar Aggarwal, only plays non-lyrical music such as Classical, Baroque or Zen. Due to immersive tasks, lyrics are especially destructive to our focus.

Since lyrics activate the language centers of the brain responsible for speech processing and production, engaging in another language-related task, such as writing, is akin to holding a conversation while another person is relentlessly interjecting. Lyrics might blend better for creative tasks independent of verbal architecture, such as designing or painting, which have room to accommodate vocals.

Lacking in lyrics and often considered to be the apex of craft, Classical music is a popular choice for getting things done. One study in particular made it very clear that Baroque-period tunes appear to have a measurable impact on productivity. The study consisted of 8 radiologists as subjects, and all but one reported that this genre of music had a notable improvement on their concentration.

Another important component of inducing focus at work is familiarity. Familiar music is preferable, particularly for projects that require intense focus, the reason being is that new music is surprising to the mind. A surprised mind, more intrigued, becomes caught up and will go on listening closely to discover what happens next.

“With familiar music, you know what lies ahead and thus the sound doesn’t become your primary focus,” Aggarwal notes. “While the journey of new music is certainly beneficial in other ways, we tread a familiar path when using music to help increase happiness at work.”

So I asked Mr. Aggarwal, “Where did he get the concept of using music as a vital tool at the workplace?”

“Since I was a child, music has been a major constant threading through all my experiences. As a big music fan, it was my escape through challenging times and my tool to help me grow. I embrace many genres for different reasons and needs. I have listened to Classical music when studying for an exam, heavy metal when training for half-marathons, and pop or hip-hop when teaching leadership skills at a high-school.”

Aggarwal concludes that “Ultimately, there are two reasons: wellness for our employees and joy in their homes. It is important to me that our team members leave work feeling fulfilled and inspired to extend that happiness to their families, creating a joyful lifestyle together.” With such high aims, I was curious to know if his hopes have withstood the daily disenchantments that any and all workplaces can engender.

After meeting with many of the employees at SKA Management, my initial curiosity turned into wonderment. I learned that SKA’s employees love their job for six primary reasons, these being their coworkers, a loving culture, autonomy, variety/learning, the challenges provided, and Mr. Aggarwal himself.

While Gallup polls have suggested that over 70% of American employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, it is not difficult to imagine a tireless, soul-sucking conveyer belt dredging up boredom, worry, stress and pain from the corporate beyond. And with many corporations being largely concerned with profits and other such utilitarian nettings, Mr. Aggarwal’s concerns about overall happiness are refreshing and a rarity in the business world.

Considering the reasons given for happiness at work at SKA Management, an impressive and diverse soundtrack was absent from the list, though that may be the beauty of it. The music played here is never too ingratiating or too obvious. It is rather a subtly sustaining influence on the work culture, the undercurrent of redirection and reinforcement needed to feel right at home, while at work.

In the company of mindful music, these workers can ease right into their workflow, while a little something more, a little something harmonious and perhaps slightly familiar, lingers in the background of that loving culture.