Why you may need a work spouse

A few weeks ago, we focused on how to handle a workplace nemesis, so it’s only logical and fair to consider the pros and cons of having a work spouse.

Work spouses: we do!

According to a 2010 survey of 640 people, most of us have tried the marriage thing at work. These are meaningful relationships, and we count on our partners to be allies—a confidant for workplace gripes who provides honest feedback and has our back when necessary.

Everybody needs somebody to love

A work spouse is first and foremost a friend—something we all seek to have at the office. In a Harvard Business Review post, University of Kentucky Professor of Business Management Christine M. Riordan says “Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers. Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying.”

But workplace friendships are not just in the employee’s best interest, because research has shown friendships enhance our work performance, job motivation and satisfaction.

“Camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work. Camaraderie at work can create ‘esprit de corps,’ which includes mutual respect, sense of identity, and admiration to push for hard work and outcomes,” Riordan wrote.

If that’s not enough to convince your boss to implement that I Heart My Colleagues initiative, inform her that a recent Australia Institute of Management report found that 67 percent of respondents felt workplace friendships were more important than job satisfaction and flexibility when it came to reasons to stay on the job.

Blurred lines

Between telecommuting, Twitter and 24-7 email, we spend so much time connected to the workplace, it’s no wonder we seek closer relationships there. One study found that the lines between our personal and professional lives can become so blurred that our colleagues and “real” friends become one and the same.

That’s fine up to a point, but a Captivate Network study found that work spouse relationships can become a little muddy:

“While respondents predictably discussed work issues with their work spouse (93 percent discussed work in general, 87 percent talked about co-workers and 58 percent discussed salary), they also delved into much more personal issues with them. 63 percent discussed health issues with their work spouse, 59 percent confided in their work spouse about at-home problems and 35 percent discussed their sex life with their work spouse.”

Those can be problematic lines to cross, and when they are, a workplace marriage (not to mention a real-life marriage) can get into trouble, or even fall apart. Still, Riordan says the potential benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls: “Sure, there can be bumps: professional jealousy, groupthink, negative cliques, split loyalties, loss of work time to socializing, and broken friendships. However, these are all manageable and the benefits of positive relationships far outweigh any negative outcomes.”

As it turns out, most work spouse relationships are not likely to end as the result of some kind of transgression, but rather because one partner changes jobs or gets laid off.

If your work marriage is torn asunder, don’t fret too much. There’s always another fish in the cube sea.

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Post by Jill Coody Smits

Jill Coody Smits is an Austin-based freelance writer and proponent of research-backed communication. Interested in psychology, health, fitness, and human rights. Wife, mother, traveler, reader, dog-lover, unaccomplished athlete.