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The Living Workplace: Soul, Spirit and Success in the 21st Century

by Ann Coombs with Marion E. Raycheba

A few years ago I taught English at a prestigious private school, an experience that left me feeling like an indentured servant. Wanting a more balanced life, with time for family and friends, I left for the more precarious life of a freelance writer. Do I have any regrets? Only that I didn’t leave sooner.

My stress was not unique. Today, people are working longer hours than ever, and with technology creating a “virtual office,” it’s hard to feel as if we ever leave work behind. According to Ann Coombs, the corporate world must adapt quickly to an impending shift in the idea of “work.” Corporate loyalty is a thing of the past, making everyone an entrepreneur in charge of their own career. The old militaristic model of work, a kind of parent-child model, is finished, and, culturally, spirituality is booming.

For employers, Coombs’ intelligent and reasoned book should sound a warning bell. She argues that companies must inspire employee loyalty or face losing skilled workers in a tight labour market. But how does one inspire such loyalty? Coombs anaylzes such fissures in the workplace as office rage and toxic attitudes, then outlines her formula for creating a “trusting, respectful and truth-filled” environment.

The Living Workplace includes questionnaires, problem-solving examples from Coombs’ consultancy, and advice for those establishing their own business. She affirms that paying lip service to values won’t work. It’s not just a matter of giving employees time off or time to meditate, she argues, but of managers living according to the ethics they espouse.

Although I’m skeptical about Coombs’ larger, Utopian vision – given the limitations of human nature – The Living Workplace is a timely book for Canadian businesses. It is fair and gracefully written, free of new-age jargon, and a good place to begin reflecting on longer-term planning.