Work husband, work wife, work spouse, office wife, office husband, office spouse .
These are all terms used to describe a fairly new type of workplace relationship between co-workers of the opposite sex.
A work spouse relationship is a relationship between two co-workers which is characterized by strong emotional bonds similar to those in a marriage. It usually has all the elements of a marriage except for the sex.
A work spouse or office spouse is a workmate of the opposite sex with whom one shares a platonic relationship.
Work spouse relationships are becoming increasingly more common as indicated by the statistics below.
Work Spouse Statistics
An online survey of over 6,000 full-time workers conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder.com found that 1 in 10 workers (11 percent) felt that they had a work spouse
A survey conducted among a variety of industries by Vault.com found that 32% of the respondents reported having a work husband or work wife.
In a survey on socializing in the workplace conducted by Randstad USA, 53% of women and 42% of men said they had a work or office spouse.
Are Work Spouse Relationships Really Harmless?
Many people believe that work spouse relationships are harmless, but my ongoing infidelity research indicates that work spouse relationships aren’t as benign as they may seem.
Three years ago I began warning people that every work spouse relationship has the potential to become a workplace affair.
Work spouse relationships are closely akin to emotional infidelity. The bonds formed between a work husband and a work wife are virtually identical to the bonds between two people involved in an emotional affair, and emotional infidelity is the precursor to sexual infidelity.
When a work spouse relationship turns into a work spouse affair, the dual sexual - emotional bond that results will undermine the marriage or committed relationship of the two work spouses involved.
Here’s how easily that can occur.
How Work Spouse Relationships Become Workplace Affairs
Since a work spouse relationship is basically an emotional affair, precautions need to be taken, and checks and balances put into place.
If there is a strong sexual attraction between the two work spouses, and the opportunity presents itself, a work spouse relationship can easily become a sexual affair. The catalyst could be one of the common workplace scenarios below:
A company-sponsored social event – especially if alcohol is being served
Frequently working late nights together on a business project especially behind closed doors
Socializing with a work spouse after business hours without the presence of their respective mates
Traveling together for business, and holding meetings in a work spouse’s hotel room
If one’s work husband or work wife is the type of person either party would seriously consider dating if they were single or unattached, then work spouses need to be especially vigilant to keep their relationship from inadvertently crossing the line.
The Growing Trend of Work Spouse Infidelity
One of the infidelity trends I predicted for 2009 and beyond is a significant increase in work spouse infidelity - workplace affairs which are an outgrowth of work husband - work wife, relationships.
Research in this area is still relatively new. But as more studies are conducted on the long-term effects of work spouse relationships, it will become apparent that they’re not so harmless after all.
Today’s work spouse relationships are going to become tomorrow’s workplace affairs. Eventually, when productivity at work begins to suffer, and marriages and relationships begin to deteriorate, people will realize the seriousness of this threat.
Signs You Have A Work Spouse
You depend on a particular co-worker for office supplies, snacks and aspirin.
There are inside jokes that you and a specific co-worker share.
You can be bluntly honest with this person about his or her appearance, hygiene or hair (and vice versa). You're comfortable enough to point out that the other's hair is sticking up -- or that someone's fly is down.
When something eventful happens at work, this co-worker is the first person you seek out for a de-briefing.
At breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks, your closest co-worker knows what to order for you and how you like your coffee (and vice versa).
You and your co-worker can finish each other's sentences.
Someone in your office knows almost as much about your personal life as your best friend or real-life spouse does.
Pluses and minuses of a work-spouse relationship.
There are great benefits to having a close relationship with a co-worker. Among the benefits of a work spouse:
You have a friend who provides emotional support at work during challenging times. During times of stress at home or at work, you have a built-in support system.
Work spouses often complement each other in terms of skills, abilities and their approaches to work. The two of you can make a very productive team.
Having a trustworthy co-conspirator for those occasional workplace escapades (and juicy gossip) can be beneficial, and often acts as a way to release work-related stress.
The possible pitfalls of a work spouse may include:
The relationship between you and your "spouse" might be misinterpreted by other co-workers as a clique. If others feel excluded, it may be a catalyst for personal or professional disagreements.
If the relationship goes sour, it can have a negative impact on you, your "ex" and your team as a whole.
If your real spouse becomes aware of their counterpart, it can create issues in your real-life marriage.
Managing the work spouse relationship
Here are some tips on how best to keep everyone, including your work spouse, happy on the job:
Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure that other co-workers are not feeling shut out by the perception that you and your work spouse are an exclusive clique of two. If you are working on a project together that also involves the team, be sure to reach out to everyone for feedback and suggestions.
Avoid crossing boundaries. It's great to have a support system and a close confidante, but be sure to set boundaries for how much to share with your office mate. More importantly, honor those boundaries. If the relationship becomes antagonistic or is too close for comfort, let your work spouse know you need a little space.
Lighten the mood. If your life at home and at work is filled with complications, bringing a co-worker into the middle of those issues may not be beneficial for you. You should aim to keep the mood light and happy with your work spouse. You'll look forward to enjoying gossip, taking breaks and being able to relax with a friend without any concerns or complications.
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