Samantha Clarke has made it her life’s mission to help employees to feel joy and purpose in their work. As she releases her first book, Love it or Leave it, Elle Blakeman meets a true Kintsugi women, empowering others to effect change…
Samantha Clarke’s business card reads ‘Happiness consultant and changemaker’. She is that rare thing of a woman at the top of her game who wants nothing more than to lift everyone around her.
I’m half expecting a hippy, someone in a flower skirt with a passion for hugging trees, but when we meet, in London’s Soho House, I find a wonderfully warm and down-to-earth woman, eager to share her hard-earned knowledge with the world.
So, how on earth does one anyone become a Happiness Coach I ask? ‘I wasn’t happy with my work,’ explains Clarke. ‘I’d gone down a very traditional career path – studied management and marketing and found myself in the advertising world, selling things that didn’t really fit with my values. And I just wanted more, but I didn’t know what ‘more’ was.’
‘I wanted to be creative and was dreaming about working independently, having a ‘portfolio career’ but that language wasn’t around then so I was a bit stuck. So, I started experimenting in the evenings with stuff that I loved.’
She had planned to launch a footwear brand, but after investors pulled out due to the recession, a friend suggested she lend a listening ear to a colleague who was also struggling at work.
‘I loved it!’ she exclaims with feeling. ‘Speaking through his work and fears, I’d managed to help him pinpoint what to say in an interview and soon more and more friends were asking for help.’
Clarke soon decided to retrain, studying psychology at The School of Life while working at tech company Dadi. She was originally employed to work in marketing before pitching them a new role as a happiness coach. ‘They loved it,’ she recalls. ‘Like most companies, they had some issues, people weren’t connecting. They had a certain type of culture and they didn’t really understand the people they’d brought on. I just thought they could stand to really humanise their culture.’
After two years, she decided to branch out alone, launching her own consultancy and coaching services which has so far seen her running workshops for Soho House, Harrods, Innocent and P&G, as well as numerous TED Talks which have been watched by a worldwide audience of millions.
Clarke’s book, Love It Or Leave It: How To Be Happy at Work, which debuts this month dubs itself ‘the cod liver oil prescription to help you limber up and get flexy – being open to learning, spotting opportunities and preparing mentally and physically.’ In her pages, Clarke outlines the evolution of our relationship with work as a ‘bitter, twisted love story’ explaining how we’ve moved from work first being a brutal, joyless manual labour in the fields to the warmth of an office ‘where we flourished and learnt new skills’. However, she explains that the relationship soon engulfed us, and with the advent of new technology, became as she wittily notes ‘a bit clingy’, leaking into personal lives, our personalities and even our sleep, leaving us feeling trapped.
Many of her clients wanted a change. ‘A lot of the questions that come up include clients saying, “I love doing many things but how do I stop myself from burning out?” They’re open to risk and being agile but need help with balance of networking as well as managing money. And we’re not taught that at school – money and entrepreneurship.’
For Clarke, one of the biggest problems today is that people who are unhappy at work often think there’s little they can do to change the status quo. ‘We don’t take the time to reflect on what we actually want, we become either a bit comfortable or complacent with ourselves and our abilities and we don’t realise that.’
‘We’re quite a popcorn culture, we think we can move from one industry to another and have the same salary or higher and have the perfect job, it doesn’t work that.
She believes that some people are reluctant to move into a new role because they’re scared of ‘going back to the beginners mindset’ so there’s a resistance, ‘it makes it easier just to stay put.’ She compares it to the world of dating apps, ‘With each swipe we think the next person we meet is going to be perfect and actually we don’t spend any time properly looking at the person right in front of us there and then, we’re quick to dismiss things easily – it’s the same with the job, it’s not ticking the boxes but you don’t really know why.’
And that’s where Clark’s skills are a lifeline, helping unsatisfied workers identify what the problems are and how to overcome them without doing anything too drastic. ‘People come to me and say “I hate my job, it’s a disaster, it’s a nightmare” and once we’ve pulled it apart and discussed it all they’ve realised that it’s actually not that bad and they’d have been a fool to walk away from it. Instead they’ve managed to tweak and change the things they didn’t want. It’s just about shining a light on it.’
As well as drawing attention to areas that need exploring, coaching gives clients a confidence boost, allowing them to take charge of their lives and their careers. ‘They find themselves finally able to ask for a sabbatical or to go down from five days to three to give them space to do something else.’
Of course, sometimes people are disinclined to make changes to their careers, particularly if the job becomes a status symbol of who’ve they come and the successes they’ve achieved. Clarke believes that no job titles should define us, ‘We need to move into more of an expansive statement around who we are that doesn’t pigeon-hole us into just one label’. The main thing is to work out what makes you tick: ‘For some people it’s money and for others it’s freedom and autonomy or doing the work they love.’ It’s important not to judge yourself whatever order these things fall in says Clarke, it really is ok and allowing yourself to be whoever you are is key.
Does Clarke find that more of her female clients struggle with asking for a pay rise than her male clients? ‘Men seem to have such a fluid ease with the language around money so there is something around worth and cost that women haven’t spoken about, we’re getting better, especially around equal pay and investing circles, I think it will become a deeper conversation, that’s the only thing that’s held us back, it’s not always been spoken about therefore talking about it in the workplace feels a bit like a taboo and we’re scared to do it.’
She believes that millennials are more open to career changes than their parents, ‘When we look at generations of say 30 or above, we’ve grown up with technology, we were on the curb of it and knew about working remotely but there’s a lot of risk and people older than this are perhaps more risk adverse, they worry about how they actually make money.’
While older generations may have been hesitant to move jobs or challenge a company’s ethos, for younger people this isn’t always the case. ‘I like the fact that young people are being a lot more open and that we’re not being passive around job searching. That’s what’s led us to this grin and bear it idea, we never realised that we do all actually have a choice in this.’
She attributes this to the fact that we’re now time in a time of such transparency. ‘There wasn’t any such thing as rating the CEO and working conditions of a company on Glassdoor – we were just grateful to be there.’
‘Young people have their own platforms to talk about stuff, if things are not right at work they will be vocal about it and companies now are trying their best to create the right employee brand because you don’t want a potential candidate doing research ahead of applying for a job and finding out that it has a toxic environment.’
Helping businesses invest and better understand their employees is a major part of Clarke’s work today and it’s not just about free lunches and colourful bean bags or pool tables. ‘I try to encourage companies to think that when individuals are coming to work they don’t just switch off being the person they are outside, they might have issues going on with family or through core nutrition they’re not being productive – there is so much that makes up who we are in the holistic space that we operate. It’s up to companies to try and do everything they can to support the individual.’
Of course happiness doesn’t just stem from a harmonious working life though, something the UAE went about tackling in 2016 when Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum appointed Her Excellency Ohoud Al Roumi as the country’s first Minister of State for Happiness. The UAE follows in the footsteps of Bhutan and Venezuela, who have worked to improve levels of happiness in the country through a variety of policies measuring the effectiveness of the government’s various social welfare programs. For Clarke, these are steps in the right direction. ‘I think it’s really imperative we do look at happiness as a wider spectrum because work is one part but individuals that go to work make up a company and the company becomes part of a community and so toxicity has ripple effects on everything.’
So what’s next for Clarke? ‘I’m super excited about my book, I want people to really get the changes they want to seek from this and I want to support people with additional material, like a member’s group that surrounds the book itself.’
‘I’m also training people in my methods so I’ll have a team of other consultants who can help more and more people find work that makes them happy and gives them a purpose.’