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    The happiness consultant and career coach talks to The Royal Exchange about how to foster healthy employer-employee relationships while navigating the new normal


    THE ROYAL EXCHANGE: What is the key to experiencing happiness at work?

    SAMANTHA CLARKE: It’s interesting because it’s different for each individual, but there are frameworks that I use to help corporations and individuals identify and examine the different elements that affect happiness at work. When I work with corporates there are four pillars that we look at:

    The first one is the communication and connection frameworks that companies have in place – how are they communicating with the managers and employees within the organisation?

    Then there is the head and heart framework. For example, is the company a place that allows individuals to feel confident, psychologically safe and like they can excel?

    The third pillar looks at the balance between digital and mindfulness, and how to put preventative measures in place to avoid people burning out.

    Lastly, we look at work and life. What practices are in place to allow people to navigate this blurred landscape between the two, and what systems and protocols – flexible working, for example – could help to support that?

    TRE: And for individuals?

    SC: When I’m working with someone from an individual perspective, I like to hone in and refine a little bit more. What I’m seeing in this area is that there are six core elements on which an individual assesses their personal happiness.

    The first one is what I call their personal purpose umbrella. I ask if they feel like the job that they’re doing is an accurate reflection of their values, how they want to show up in the world, and what they are able to communicate to others around what they do?

    Money is another pillar. Do they feel like they are earning what they are worth? Do they have the ability to get paid what they would like to be earning, and to ask for a pay rise if it’s necessary?

    There are six core elements on which an individual assesses their personal happiness

    Next there is the whole mindset and self-leadership aspect, which plays a massive role in happiness at work. This looks at whether or not you are able to create the rituals and the routines that help you to feel productive, alert and sharp.

    It’s also really important to think about the different strands that might make up your work portfolio. Are you happy with the main job that you do? What might you like to add on and what might you want to change?

    Then I like to look at people and place. How well are you getting on with your co-workers, your suppliers, your clients? What is your work environment like and how is that shaping you? The work environment itself can be a crucial, pivotal pillar around happiness.

    The last one is systems and flow. I ask, do you know what puts you in great flow, in terms of using and aligning your strengths? What systems could you put in place to help you be your best self, at work and in life?

    Samantha Clarke talking at a Tedx event about ways to find more meaning and purpose in work

    TRE: What are the main challenges facing business leaders and managers at this moment in time?

    SC: First and foremost it’s Covid, of course, and, from a leader’s perspective, what this culture shift might mean for the business in terms of putting different practices in place. The phase we are moving into now, with lockdown being relaxed, raises the question of whether to prepare the office so that people can come back, and what the business will look like if there’s only a skeleton team on site.

    From a manager’s perspective, there’s the deciphering of what communication looks like now that someone is no longer just ‘John from IT’, for example, because we are seeing our colleagues in their natural habitats. ‘John’ is also a father, with his child there in the background, and his team leader may be becoming increasingly aware of how stressed and tired he is. This humanising of the relationship between managers and their teams requires a whole new narrative to be created for how we communicate with each other virtually. We might have to limit the amount of Zoom calls that we have so we don’t get that fatigue, for example.

    And then we’ve also got the whole Black Lives Matter movement happening, so there are diversity and inclusion issues surfacing at work as well, with lots of questions to be asked. So, there’s a lot of tension at the moment, just with working in general, and issues around how to keep people motivated, engaged and efficient amid so many external factors, as well as some internal issues that may have just been cracked wide open.

    TRE: How important is transparency between business leaders and employees at this moment in time?

    SC: Now, more than ever, is the time for transparency. People have had a lot of time to contemplate their jobs recently – how they’ve been treated and how the situation has been handled. From what I’m seeing, individuals are currently questioning a lot around the purpose and meaning of things in their lives. In terms of their jobs they are starting to ask questions such as: ‘Is this the company that I want to spend my time with?’ Whether it’s seeing how things have been played out over Covid or how other social issues are being addressed, the question in many people’s minds at the moment is: ‘Is this a company that really values people, or is it all about profit right now?’ Especially as we might be heading into a recession and it’s going to get harder.

    It’s hard for leaders because they’re also still figuring it all out themselves. No-one really knew how to navigate Covid, we all figured it out slowly. Gradually, things settled, and now we’re coming to another point where there’s lots of new decisions to be made. There will be a period of uprooting for a while, until it levels off again.

    I think leaders need to be honest and say ‘we’re working on it,’ or ‘we don’t really know’, or ‘this is what we’re going to try, what do you think?’. It’s important for them to listen to their employees if they try something and there is a push back. I’m not saying that everything will be 100 per cent agreed, both ways, because fundamentally it’s a business and they’re trying to operate, but I think now is a time to ask questions and listen, with integrity, because people are going to want to find more of that in their work.

    TRE: So, honest communication and remembering to listen are essential to maintaining good employer-employee relations through challenging times?

    SC: Yes, 100 per cent. Integrity, honesty and having those rich human conversations. Having some of the difficult conversations around what’s working and what isn’t. What they can control and what they can’t. I’d rather a company said: ‘OK, this is where the business is right now, and this is what needs to be done. It might mean that we’ll have to make some changes’ verses being a bit cloak and dagger about it all.

    Now is a time to ask questions and listen, with integrity, because people are going to want to find more of that in their work

    TRE: What can be done to keep teams feeling motivated and connected through this period of disruption and trying to figure out what the ‘new normal’ looks like?

    In the same way that we do pre and post assessments of projects, now is a good time to look at how things were working before Covid, and what people would we like to do differently moving forward – what to keep and what to change. Be real, be honest, and know that now is the time to make some really embedded and elevated changes, versus just slipping back into the status quo. Because things are different, we’re all different.

    It’s a good time to talk about the company style and ask ‘What should work look like in our company?’ There definitely needs to be an appreciation of the person in front of you as an individual, and recognition that there are things you perhaps didn’t know about or account for before, because you were in an office and that person didn’t say anything. Perhaps you’ve learned that someone is actually a carer, or that someone else has been living on their own for however long. It’s important to ensure people have access to mental health services, and that they have the opportunities to talk and discuss any issues. Maybe make your team meetings a little bit more discursive around what’s going on for people and how they are feeling – do more temperature checks on the company.

    TRE: Some people may be keen to return to a workplace, while others may feel very anxious about it. How can business leaders navigate the range of feelings workers may have regarding this?

    SC: I’ve seen managers have varying approaches. Some are consulting their employees on it, by conducting invisible polls to see how many people would feel happy to move back into the spaces and what the demand is for the office to become a part of their lives again. Others are simply reopening the offices but making coming in voluntary. And some are actively thinking about what they could do to entice people back. Again, it’s about asking questions such as, ‘What kinds of things would make you feel it would be worthwhile to come back into the office?’

    At the same time, not everybody wants to work from home. Some people are bored of the scenery. Others want that clear cut delineated line between a place of work, and home as a place to relax and play.  A lot of collaboration, and the off-the-cuff water cooler moment chats, can be really pivotal for the health and growth of some companies. The office environment can be a signature place that embodies the company culture and values of the business. It can be a place that energises creativity and connection. If some people are saying that they miss the random bump-ins with colleagues from different departments, for example, then that is something that needs to be opened up and exercised.

    TRE: Could you share a few top-line tips that people can apply to their daily lives to improve happiness?

    We need strength and resilience to battle the different stresses that work brings. You can’t serve from an empty well, so take time to nurture yourself first before you try and give to others. Map out the practices that make you feel good. Nourish your mind and body, and really look at what you can do to make sure that you are keeping your mind, body and spirit well.

    Take stock of what is elevating or draining you throughout your working week. What tasks or roles do you really enjoy? Where is there a good strength and skill alignment? It is really important to question how you’re working, who you want to work with, and how work is shaping the person that you want to become. Now is the best time to kind of hack and destroy and rebuild your attitude and your approach to work. Decide what you love about your work and what you want to leave behind in order to make you a better person, colleague, manager, leader.

    If something needs to change, seek help and advice. Speak to somebody, speak to your manager. Be proactive about what you need, ask for it. Keep iterating and just know that happiness – work happiness, especially – is about the journey. It’s about understanding what you have the power to change and seeking the help you need to make that change.


    Samantha Clarke is a happiness consultant, TEDx and Keynote speaker and the author of Love It Or Leave It – How To Be Happy At Work. She provides advice and coaching for business founders, leaders and managers on how to attract and maintain happy employees and teams, as well as career coaching for individuals; 

    A conversation with… is a monthly series that invites today’s leading minds to discuss current topics, exchange points of view and explore new ideas with The Royal Exchange