You spend eight hours a day at work. That’s 40 hours a week. Almost 2,000 hours a year. That means that over the course of your existence you’ll spend 90,000 hours of your life – that equates to 13 solid years – at work. With so much of your life devoted to work, you want to enjoy not only your job but the very environment you’re in. One thing I’ve found that makes a huge difference to my work day is having a work wife. ‘Happy work wife, happy work life!’ as they say.
Research backs this up – workplace friendships boost employee engagement and improve company culture. Respondents from a 2016 study by CV-library said the benefits of having a work spouse included support and mentorship, advice and guidance, and friendship and companionship. In 2017, Total Jobs interviewed over 4,000 people and found that 60% of people surveyed said they look forward to work thanks to their work spousal relationship. Employers also agree that it’s healthy for employees to have one person they bond with or confide in more than other colleagues.
Going from colleague to work wife
I’m polygamous when it comes to work wives – the more the merrier! For this article, I spoke with two of my previous work wives – as well as a friend from London and my sister-in-law.
If you asked me to point out a pivotal moment where one of my work wives went from colleague to work wife – I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Nicole, and one of my previous work wives, Lauren, found that it went from bonding over shared grievances and experiences, that then evolved. However, my sister-in-law, Rachel, and another previous work wife, Lou, found they had an instant connection with their current work wife.
A work wife in every port
The average person will change jobs 12 times in their lifetime – which calculates to a lot of working relationships. Nicole and Lou have found that they’ve had a work wife in almost every job they’ve been in – benefits being that they’ve found the job more enjoyable, and Nicole admitted that she’s stuck to a job a lot longer because of this. Lauren found that looking back on her many jobs, the ones she thinks of most fondly are ones where she’s had a work wife. Rachel, who worked in freelance roles up until her current role, was constantly working with different people, but still connected with a like-minded creative everywhere she went.
Taking your work wife relationship out of the office
Total Jobs found 41% of people surveyed meet face to face outside of work – so do all people incorporate their work wives into their external social lives? Nicole’s work wife is actually a work husband – how’s that for a plot twist? He has a girlfriend, so she personally feels like there is a respectful boundary to adhere to. However, her previous work wives have gone on to become some of her best friends (I can attest to this, I went to Paris with her and her previous work wife). Rachel and her work wife, Claire, had babies within three months of each other (both absolutely adorable bubs), and giggle over the fact they see more of each other than their husbands.
The support a work wife can bring
“Ugh Mum, you just don’t get it!” is possibly one of my most uttered phrases as a teenager. It’s also something I find myself saying when ranting about work difficulties to a friend outside of work. Having someone who wholly understands the industry you’re in (or perhaps even the exact situation you’re in!) is invaluable – they can offer problem-solving that directly relates to the current issue you’re experiencing. They’re good, safe, sounding boards!
Lou works in media sales, an incredibly competitive industry, and says finding someone who acts as her vault is so important. She also says her work wife will wipe away her tears in work bathrooms, celebrate your wins against the patriarchy in meetings and always be there to encourage 3pm snacking.
My work wife has supported me through personal issues as well as professional queries – when I whine to her about how much I hate press releases (hint: it’s a lot), she’s sent me links to articles on how to write releases, and links to classes on them. She’s also helped me brainstorm ways I could take more initiative in the workplace. When she sends me minor queries about grammar, I help her out with that too!
The daily benefits of a work wife
Not only are work spouses good for a rant but the other benefits they bring are innumerable. Nicole’s response on what her work husband brings to her daily life was: “Laughter, lots of laughter.” Fun was the most common response from those I asked, but also a coffee/snack/lunch pal was another benefit. Beyond laughter and food was something really important – support. Through both negative and positive times, and sometimes literal physical support as well. When pregnant, Rachel suffered from tailbone pain from sitting in her chair. She rocked up to work one morning to find that her work wife had purchased a donut to sit on so she wouldn’t be in pain – now that’s a work wife and a half. Rawnie, step your game up!
Navigating bumps in the relationship
All of the people I spoke to said that they’ve never had a work wife relationship turn sour…however Lou did get jealous when I cheated on her with another work wife (told you I was polyamorous). She got upset when I didn’t invite her out… I can’t remember the exact situation but in hindsight, I’d say the best thing is to do what you’d do in any relationship. Talk about why you’re upset, apologise, move on – and try and do better next time.
The difference between a work wife and a co-worker
A 2015 study, co-authored by Karla Bergen and Chad McBride, put emphasis on the fact that trust was the most important thing in a work spousal relationship – but also added that work spouses share similar traits. That’s what interviewees said differentiated their work spouses from their colleagues – there’s a different level of trust and understanding, and a personal connection.
Lauren understands firsthand how important trust is in the workplace – she’s learnt this from working in office jobs where she knew that what she said would get around, and in the worst possible way. You can’t choose who you work with and you spend a lot of time with them – there’s going to be workplace conflicts, and it’s good having a work wife to safely vent to.
Work wifey for lifey?
As the wise Nelly Furtado once said, ‘why do all good things come to an end?’ Total Jobs found that 36% of respondents would be disappointed if their work spouse was to leave, 53% would be sad, 7% would be bereaved and 23% would consider leaving too.
Lou says that when she leaves a job, she starts referring to her work wife from that job to ex-work wife. She thinks the relationship should transition to an outside of work friend – as you’re not seeing each other every day, it gives you a reason to make an effort to see them outside of work. That leaves space for a new work wife at the new job to take her place.
Lauren found that even when work wives have split, the connection you’ve developed remains – as does the friendship. Rachel was her work wife’s bridesmaid in 2017, and states that they’ll be grandma’s together (as someone who interned at their work years ago – I can vouch for that).
So how do you get yourself a work wife, and start reaping the benefits? Attend work functions – I met my current work wife at a project management training course. Ask people if they’d like to eat lunch in the park – everyone would prefer that to eating at their desk. And if they don’t, do you really want them as a work wife? If you’ve got a question, don’t hesitate to ask them face to face for an explanation, as opposed to email – infinitely more memorable, and it gives you a chance to build rapport. Let me know how you go!
Words by Kate Evans