Samantha Clarke is a consultant-coach, a public speaker, and the founder of the happiness practice Samantha& and the Growth & Happiness School. With a unique portfolio career, 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, and talk more about your approach?
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?
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.
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.
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 a 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. Can you tell me more?
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. Courses include ‘Be Happy First’ that helps individuals develop skills to help them bring their best self to work and transforming themselves for peak performance. ‘Find Your Work Happiness’ due out in 2018 is a practical guide to help create work you love once and for all. ‘Create Growth & Happiness’ is our signature training programme for those who want to help companies create happiness at work and become a certified Happiness Consultant.
So far we’ve had students across a spectrum of industries from finance, education, non-profit, and tech. People who are founders, employees, hr consultants and more. 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, what are your TOP 3 suggestions for a company planning to implement their work culture?
I’m going to offer 4 suggestions, or a 4-step roadmap, instead because I’m cheeky like that! 🙂
Below are ways a company can create an effective strategy to embed a sense of wellbeing and happiness into their culture.
1 – Discovery: Consult and collect data
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes
Before you develop your happiness strategy, identify your company’s real health and wellbeing needs by carrying out the research. Use happiness health check surveys or any employee engagement app and data collection exercise. This process of surveying and Q&A can rule out what’s working and what isn’t.
Next, what is the data telling you? Use what you are learning to frame discussions among key focus groups to dig deeper into people’s needs. Then, you can start co-creating together. I say co-creating because employees are the heart of your business. Without focusing on them it’s hard to create a happy experience and/or a company that will make them want to stay and make others join. Consulting with employees also makes it more likely they’ll feel a sense of ownership and involvement.
2 – Align your happiness strategy with your business culture and values
The best way to predict the future is to create it
Now, how will you set a solidly rooted agenda that will shape the structure, content, and communication of your strategy? How will it outline the kinds of success measures? By knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve it will also make it easier to sell it in and to demonstrate its success.
Every happiness strategy and plan should have an endpoint. Identify a clear goal that will benefit the business, showcase its values, and elevate their employees. I’d recommend creating a plan that has a mix of preventative and reactive initiatives which are closely aligned with strategic goals and budgets. I don’t believe it’s about draining the accounts. Then, identify where the gaps might be across the 4 Happiness Pillars and map out how addressing these deficiencies will shape your company as well as how you will implement it.
3 – Educating, implementing, & communicating
You can’t steer the ship unless you know how to sail
A happiness strategy only wins if it’s built on not only purpose but also a sense of ownership. We must embed new ways of working across the team. We must empower leaders and arm them with the right tools to create, lead, and sustain change and happier employee experience. Find ambassadors or create a happiness committee to steer the ship and activate the vision.
4 – Measure
To sustain longevity, you have to stay diligent and be open to evolving
Spreading the word and getting it off to a good start is key but it’s not the main thing. Identify how you will sustain momentum and also take on board feedback. Taking the time to front-load all the hard work in the beginning to nail your goals will help you get clear on what you want to measure and why.
I deep dive into this further in Episode 13 on my podcast if you want to take action.
Looking for more inspiration on work happiness?
Have a look at the interview with Estonian work culture designer Tiina Saar-Veelmaa.
Need some help to re-design your organization food culture?
At WE Factory, we help organizations like yours design your workplace food culture to support team creative potential and wellbeing. Read more on Workplace. If you’re interested to join our Meal at Work community, request an invite on Meal at Work.