A work spouse is a co-worker of the opposite sex with whom you have a close platonic relationship. In many ways, these relationships can mirror a real marriage.
According to a 2007 survey from Vault.com, a career information Web site, 23 percent of workers reported that they had a work spouse.
Do you have a work spouse?
Here are seven clear signs you might have a work spouse:
1. You depend on a particular co-worker for office supplies, snacks and aspirin.
2. There are inside jokes that you and a specific co-worker share.
3. 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.
4. When something eventful happens at work, this co-worker is the first person you seek out for a de-briefing.
5. 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).
6. You and your co-worker can finish each other's sentences.
7. 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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