Most of us live a double life. The person you are at home is different from who you are at work. Though keeping professional and separating life from work is not unhealthy, it can be really exhausting, especially since we spend over a third of our lives with people in the office.
What if there was someone who you could be yourself with at work? What if there was someone who just understand, and to whom you can talk to honestly as a person about how you feel at work? What if there was something called a work spouse?
What is a work spouse?
First of all, the term ‘work spouse’ itself may be misleading. This is a strictly platonic and (mostly) professional relationship — a very strong bond between two working people. A work spouse is someone who you can trust, be honest to, and rely on for support. They are that person who you can talk openly about how you feel after giving that presentation, or how nervous you are for the upcoming project, and you’re sure their words will give encouragement.
A work spouse therefore is more like a work BFF — a companion with which you share the highs and lows and support each other through the working life, a confidant who you can share your concerns with and you know will have your back.
Work spouses can be a teammate you’re really close to where you two synergize really well together and perform better together — or they can be from a different department or floor altogether. Work spouses mostly talk about their work and their life outside the office. This relationship therefore is a professional bond as well as an emotional one.
The ultimate role of a work spouse is to make life at work more bearable, richer, and more enjoyable, much like an actual spouse would — except instead of a life companion, it’s a work companion.
What are the benefits of having a work spouse?
1. Engagement and performance
That is, engagement as in ‘engagement and motivation’. Remember the school days? We used to look forward to school not because of the classes and homework, but because meeting friends was the highlight of the day. A work spouse could be a similar highlight to your office days.
The motivation a work spouse can give doesn’t only translate to making work more enjoyable, but also more engaging, which ”helps get the best out of you,'' according to Chad McBride, the researcher behind the study of work spouses.
The study found that people with work spouses are happier and more productive. By having a work spouse, you would not only feel happier, but also work better in synergy with your partner, which increases your performance and make you better at what you do.
2. Emotional support
Work can be stressful sometimes as we all know. Changes, challenges, and conflicts can happen unexpectedly and catch you off guard. Not feeling a fit with the company culture can take a toll on your emotions over time, and brushing it off can only do so much.
A key role in the work spouse relationship is to provide emotional support to each other. The fact of having a close ally itself is already an encouragement to face the hardships of work. A work spouse is someone with whom you can find solace, rediscover humor, and lift your spirits through hard times.
A work spouse is someone who makes good days better and bad days more bearable, like a companion.
This emotional bond is so strong that if their work spouse leaves the job, 23% would consider leaving too. Good or bad, this clearly illustrates how the emotional connection between work spouses could touch life outside of work.
3. A second brain
Often times, a work spouse would actually be a team member who work on the same projects as you. Teamwork is one thing, but the bond with a work spouse often means you two work better together. A work spouse who you actually work with can help you finish projects with outstanding results thanks to the incredible synergy between the two of you.
This is because a work spouse not only understands the work that you do, but they also understand you — how you work, how you think, your personality, et cetera. You could adjust and complement each other’s strengths and gaps, skip the niceties and give honest feedback to each other without much drama.
If your work spouse is on another floor, they can still give you a fresh perspective on the tasks that you’re facing. Ideas and inspiration often comes from faraway places, and comes easier with someone who’s not afraid to share their thoughts with you.
4. Psychological safety
Perhaps the most important reason why people have work spouses is to have an anchor for psychological safety. If you’ve read our articles before, you’d know what psychological safety is. If not, don’t worry! We’ll get you up to speed.
Psychological safety is when it’s safe to be vulnerable. Think about it for a second: why are we reluctant to share our own ideas to a group? It’s because we’re afraid of being told off, criticized, ridiculed in public. In short, we’re afraid of a risk to be psychologically hurt. To be psychologically safe is to not fear that fear when sharing your honest thoughts with other people.
Keeping up a separate, professional personality can be exhausting. With your work spouse, however, you can drop the act and be yourself once in a while at work. Someone who you can share your feelings with without fear of being exposed can encourage you a long way.
Psychological safety is built on trust, which is also the building blocks of the work spouse relationship. This strong trust is what makes work spouses special and different from a regular close colleague. As a confidant and a trusted ally, a work spouse can help us build psychological safety among ourselves when there is none to be found.
Staying as friends
The concept of a work spouse is actually still rather uncommon. People tend to opt for a larger network of close connections instead of a single, really close person, and many is sometimes better than one. For one, they don’t have to deal with the potential gossip or drama that can entail two people being very close together at work, or worry if their personalities might cause friction with each other.
That said, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s totally up to you to choose to have a work spouse or a group of close connections. In any case, the point of a work spouse is to make work more enjoyable, more bearable, and more productive. If a network can serve the same purpose, why not?