Samantha Clarke is a consultant-coach, a public speaker, and the founder of the happiness practice Samantha& and the Growth & Happiness School. She is on a mission to liberate tired company cultures from unhappy work environments.
She does so by either delivering group coaching sessions, creating happiness and wellbeing strategies, leading countless workshops and speaking on all things company culture, employee growth & happiness. Samantha is also the podcast host of “Conversations with Samantha&,” in which she dialogues with philosophers, technologists, heads of people & talent, and communication specialists about the impact of technology on happiness in work, life, and our cities.
In this Workplace Wisdom interview, I chat with Samantha about the connection between food culture and team wellbeing, and what the ingredients of a thriving work culture are.
Why is happiness important at work?
We spend so much time at work that it’s time we figured out how to do it right. For some it sounds very over the top to want to be happy at work, considering many moons ago work was something we had to just grin and bear. Now we need work to feed our passions and interests as well as provide us with money, connection, and purpose. It’s a big part of our identity and when it’s not going right the effect of it manifest in many ways. Personally, I’ve spent lots of time working in environments with toxic bosses and demoralizing cultures until I decided to fly solo.
It’s easy to forget that companies are a collection of people working towards a common purpose and that interconnectedness has a ripple effect. Whatever energy that the individual leaves work with it has a knock-on effect on their relationships, home life, and community. Add to this the current prevailing climate of intolerance, selfishness, pain, natural disasters, and rising right-wing politics it’s quite a chaotic melting pot. My emphasis is to look at how we can create pivotal change, increased well-being, and connection starting with the world of work and then branch outwards. Happy companies = happy employees = happy societies.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that organizations face today?
The biggest issue is Connection & Communication and making sure communication processes are open and transparent. Obviously, this becomes harder as companies scale quickly and venture across borders.
The impact of technology in the workplace has been both help and hindrance. It has brought efficiency, speed, global reach, and increased opportunities but it’s also put us in a place of deep exhaustion, blurred work boundaries and increased disconnection.
Then, the need to attract and retain talent is always a growing problem, especially with Millenials and Gen Z entering the workforce at a great pace. They are shaping, redefining, and shaking up work practices, which in turn requires a flexible approach to new ideas and disruption.
Can you describe your framework to assess happiness?
Happiness has so many variable meanings. It can have a psychological meaning (the state of mind that so many people seek), a well-being sense (is my life going well for me?), or it can be more a case of discovering what “sources of happiness” people can recall (a good network of support, perhaps). I stand for a hybrid ‘emotional wellbeing’ stance and help to distill the right sources of happiness for a company or individuals that are substantial and beneficial.
I’ve identified 4 Happiness Pillars that enable me to get under the skin of how a company is operating and what may need to change:
- Head & Heart: These are traits around resilience, confidence, and tenacity, as well as problem-solving skills. How is the company equipping employees to bounce back from adversity? Does an individual have autonomy to deliver work at the best?
- Work & Life: What can the company do to develop processes and structures that support collaboration, connection, and creativity? Are there opportunities for flexible working? This pillar also addresses the component of work-life harmony and how work is sculpting this for better or worse
- Connection & Communication: How can employees build better relationships with their co-workers? What causes communication breakdowns in the office that make work difficult and unpleasant.
- Digital & Mindful: How does technology impact happiness and wellbeing at work? Can a balance be found between mindfulness practices and nature vs constant tech stimulation and distraction?
Looking for more inspiration on work happiness?
Check my interview with Estonian work culture designer Tiina Saar-Veelmaa.
Many people consider free healthy food in tech companies as a way to trigger people to spend more time at work rather than a wellbeing perk. What’s your opinion?
I’ve spoken to people who have worked for and left some of these giants. Many of them have said just that. It’s a tricky one because some of these giant tech firms have the budget to create mammoth canteens and perks galore. So of course, why wouldn’t they go above and beyond? There were the odd times they stated that it played a role in team building sessions. But the general consensus was that the focus on work was paramount. So I’m not sure how healthy it is in the long run. I always say to small companies that they don’t need all these big dazzling displays. They can get it right in their own way that feels wholesome and unique.
From your perspective, does food culture play a role in shaping happy organizations? And if so, in which way?
Sitting down over a good meal can be pivotal to nurture relationships, strengthen bonds, and cross-pollinate ideas. Unfortunately in the UK and not so much the continent, food and lunch breaks seem like a bit of an inconvenience. The number of stories I hear of people skipping lunch in favor of being glued to a screen or to keep up presenteeism appearances breaks my heart. I try and encourage rituals in the workplace that can engage teams to build better relationships around food & drink (not just alcohol).
Friday drinks: are those enough to make a work environment a happy one?
It’s not the grand gestures that produce the most happiness. Our brain is happiest when it’s delighted by random novel/new experiences. Summer parties, Friday afternoon drinks or Christmas parties are nice as an addition to a wider selection of random acts.
Can you share any great story of companies implementing a happiness strategy and what has changed since the start?
Every company is unique so there is no one size fits all. Below are just a few I’ve helped to implement:
- Random lunch roulette: Six random people from different teams have lunch together to get to know each other. We also did it in a snappier format like coffee roulette. Each month there is a signature set of questions with someone you don’t work with over a fresh brew. Both of these not only offered the increased element of surprise and delight but also sparked off greater creativity and collaboration and diffused tension within a toxic team.
- Moments of pause: At 3 PM the whole company has a pause for a moment of silence to meditate or just be still. *These contemplative breaks bought this company a unified way of being still and centered and helped to regain attention and flow.
- Art in the park: A team of developers steps away from their computers to draw and create in the park. Individuals reported clarity in thinking, more innovation, and a willingness to be more open. Also, they started to appreciate and use their hands in new ways instead of just tapping away creating code.
- Creation of a ‘You Made My Day’ wall: People could randomly write down a name and a praise to someone who made their day on a whiteboard built up in the office. It’s a great way to give ad-hoc praise, acknowledgment, and attention. So it doesn’t need to be held back until the annual review.
You’ve recently launched the Growth & Happiness School. What’s all about?
The Growth & Happiness School is the home for ‘Happiness at Work’ training programmes and online courses. The school’s goal is to help individuals discover, understand, and implement tried & tested growth and happiness strategies that work for business and life.
So far we’ve had students who are founders, employees, hr consultants across a spectrum of industries from finance, education, non-profit, and tech. They go through the programme to help their respective companies or clients make radical changes. My hope is that once they practice and use these tools effectively, they can spread the love and in turn help their friends, family, colleagues, and clients.
And finally, how can a company implement its happiness strategy?
This my four-step roadmap to create an effective strategy to embed a sense of wellbeing and happiness into their culture.
- Discovery: Consult and collect data: This process of surveying and Q&A can rule out what’s working and what isn’t.
- Align your happiness strategy with your business culture and values: Identify a clear goal that will benefit the business, showcase its values, and elevate their employees.
- Educating, implementing, & communicating: Find ambassadors or create a happiness committee to steer the ship and activate the vision.
- Measure: Identify how you will sustain momentum and also take on board feedback.
I deep dive into this further in Episode 13 on my podcast if you want to take action.
Learn more about Samantha’s work
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