Working hard may help you climb the corporate ladder, but experts say that having a “work spouse” may benefit your professional and mental well-being.
According to research, a work spouse — someone commonly, but not always, of the opposite gender whom you share a close platonic bond with — can affect your happiness and lead to increased productivity at work. Much like a romantic partner, a work husband or wife is someone you confide in and trust, and the relationship offers support for matters both work and non-work related, which experts say is key to preventing burnout and managing stress.
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“Most of us are spending much more time at work than we are with our [outside] friends and family,” said Dr. Joti Samra, a registered psychologist and founder of B.C.-based company My Workplace Health. “The nature and quality of those relationships at work is really critical… they’re the biggest things that can make a difference between us being resilient in the face of stress, challenges and difficulties.”
Friends and spouses can lend an ear when it comes to job frustrations, but only someone who works in the same space as you can truly understand the ins-and-outs of your professional environment.
This is where a work spouse becomes a valuable resource, a 2015 study out of Creighton University and the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Neb. found. Co-authored by Dr. Chad McBride and Dr. Karla Mason Bergen, many of the study’s 269 participants said work spouses helped them solve job problems.
“The fact that the work spouse knows the organizational culture makes that person a better confidant and support system when wanting to vent about work issues, which we know to be important in managing work-life conflict,” the study said.
According to Samra, being able to talk about work-related stress with someone who understands helps us let go of negative feelings, and also work through professional challenges more objectively. Since work stress can lead to burnout, this is particularly important.
“When we come home and we vent about work to our partner or spouse… they’re hopefully mostly on our side, [but] sometimes that can inflame the issues we’re having,” she explained.
“All of a sudden, your partner — who is meaning well — is inflaming the anger you have, whereas someone at work who has a different experience and understanding can often talk us down… and be able to be a little more balanced in the information they give.”
According to a recent survey conducted by Office Pulse, there’s a strong relationship between having a work spouse and how happy we feel in the workplace.
Based on their findings, 68 per cent of people who had work spouses said that the relationship “contributes to their happiness at the office.” Most notably, this was truest among millennials, as 73 per cent of them said they’re happier because of their work hubby.
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Samra said that when workers have strong bonds with each other, workplace culture is improved as is employee engagement. Work spouses also have a positive impact on teamwork.
“If we look at business outcomes, there’s a reduction in safety incidents, more engagement and even more profit,” she said of close work relationships. “[They] also help us offload and minimize stressors.”
On top of personal happiness, having someone’s back can help professionally, too. Office Pulse found that 29 per cent of business professionals said they’ve done something to make their work spouse “look better in their manager’s eyes.”
Men were more likely to help their work spouse impress the boss, as 35 per cent said they did something to help their work wife get ahead.
The research out of Creighton University and the College of Saint Mary found that work spouses also pushed each other “to the next level” professionally, and encouraged one another to do more/better work. Some even said their work spouse offered valuable advice and mentorship.
While work spouses are commonly platonic friendships, there’s potential for a friendship to venture into romantic territory, cautions Samra, especially if your pal is of the gender you’re attracted to.
“Let’s say there’s trouble in paradise at home… all of a sudden this intimacy that we’ve developed [with our work spouse] can start to get us on this slippery slope,” she said. “Many relationships start at work, and affairs happen at work. That would be the main red flag that we want to be mindful of.”
In order to make sure you don’t cross the line, Samra said it’s important to listen to your thoughts and feelings, and pay attention if your friendship turns into a crush. “If you’re looking forward to seeing that person, and maybe you’re sharing information that you don’t at home, that’s what starts to be problematic,” she said.
Her advice is to keep work spouse relationships centered around work, and to keep your conversations professional.
“It’s one thing if you’re keeping your conversation to mostly work-related things, but it’s another if you’re getting into complaining about your partner at home,” she said. “That’s when things start to get into the problematic grey zone.”
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