As tremendously social creatures who rely on cooperation with others for survival, it may come as a surprise that humans are still figuring out new ways and places to connect with each other. “Work wife” and “work husband,” for instance, are unfamiliar terms to many, although three-quarters of professionals say that they currently have a work spouse or have had one in the past. Additionally, 70% of interviewed employers indicated that it’s healthy for their employees to have a work spouse.
However, it’s not so much that having a work spouse is a new type of relationship — it’s just that it hasn’t found the same global recognition as other types of relationships, until now. Communication experts and other sociology specialists are beginning to analyze, research, and categorize these relationships at a professional level as the world becomes more aware of what, exactly, a work spouse is and why having one is important.
What a Work Spouse Is (and Isn’t)
The nature of the words “husband” and “wife” may lead to some confusing assumptions for those new to the term. This type of workplace relationship isn’t romantic at all, and most of the time, those who have a work spouse will have an excellent relationship with their real spouse at home.
Actually, it’s not even about the gender of the two employees in a “relationship” (which is why “work spouse” finds its way into colloquial use just as often as “work wife”). Just like friends can play a huge role in one’s success, work spouses are becoming more and more recognized for their own contributions to workplace productivity and achievement.
Sociologists studying the phenomenon of work spouses and the positive effects that these kinds of relationships can have in the workplace wish that the public would gain a more accurate understanding of work spouse relationships and acknowledge the partnership for what it is: a platonic relationship characterized by “a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect,” according to research performed in 2015 which set out to define the relationship.
How Work Spouses Maximize Productivity
Understanding what a work spouse is, and accepting that having one is likely to increase productivity, is great, but how is it that having a work wife or husband can boost motivation, output, and office attitudes?
1. Work spouses make the difficult days a little bit easier.
Whether the trouble starts at home or at work, having a supportive work spouse can make all the difference when it comes to turning a rough day into a productive one. It’s easy to waste time and energy stewing about something in your head, but getting issues off your chest can be a productive way to process negative emotions. Basically, the empathy and emotional support offered by a work spouse allows for a safe place to vent which helps keep the mind primed for success.
2. Companionship is something to look forward to.
The 9-to-5 grind isn’t usually something that has employees leaping excitedly from bed each morning — no matter the job, it won’t be exciting each and every day. When there’s a lull in excitement, the prospect of seeing and interacting with a close friend can serve as motivation to be present and engaged. Those who don’t have a significant workplace relationship, however, may find it more difficult to persevere when the days seem long or they’re particularly bogged down.
3. Two minds are better than one.
Often, work spouses have complementary working styles which can make it easy for them to bounce ideas off one another and develop creative solutions in the workplace that might not come so easily to a “single” employee. Sometimes, it’s these creative solutions that can turn a mediocre employee into a standout contributor. One study even indicated that having a best friend at work can increase engagement in the workplace sevenfold, whereas only one out of every twelve employees without an office best friend (or work spouse) is fully engaged at work.
4. Happiness = success.
Research has long shown that people who have friends at work are generally more engaged with their job and happier overall, and experts studying the emerging concept of work spouses have reason to believe that having a work spouse can take this happiness to a new level. Happier, more content employees will be more likely to achieve their workplace goals and function at their maximum capacity.
5. Having an ally is invaluable.
The social atmosphere of a workplace can be a complicated thing, and has the potential to be ripe with conflict and interesting power dynamics, just like any other social group. When frustrations with coworkers soar or other issues arise, a work spouse is an invaluable ally and sounding board.
6. A little friendly competition can go a long way.
Anyone who has ever played competitive sports, challenged themselves with personal goals, or even grew up with a sibling, understands that competition can lead to a better results than doing something alone. Work spouses may be able to keep each other more motivated and excited about their work, going so far as to offer a friendly push in the competitive spirit on days when it’s hard to focus.
Like any other type of relationship, finding a friend at work and developing a rapport that’s “spouse-worthy” may not come right away for everyone. In fact, forcing relationships to develop unnaturally may only lead to resentment, awkwardness, and decreased productivity. Instead, it’s best to sit back and let the relationship occur organically.
Do you have a work spouse? Do you find that close personal relationships at work make you better at your job? Let us know in the comments below.