Should HR encourage employees to have a work spouse?

by Tammy Buckley17 Apr 2014
It’s a reference you may be hearing more frequently in the workplace as employees forge closer ties with colleagues, but is it beneficial to business to allow staff to have a ‘work spouse’?

A promance, work wife or work husband all refer to a close platonic relationship between colleagues and according to Vault.com’s 2014 Office Romance Survey 38% of women said they had a ‘work husband’, while 27% of men had a ‘work wife’.

Shevaun Lomas, a consultant at PeopleCentric, told HRM the concept of work-spouses was popularised with the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, which highlighted how office spouses look out for and take care of each other. Promances, however, have been around long before these terms were prescribed and research shows they’re not something to stamp out.

“Overall, research suggests that these quality work relationships or promances are linked with higher job satisfaction,” Lomas explained. “Those who enjoy spending time with their colleagues are more likely to be motivated and participate in pursuing institutional goals than those who have no ‘promantic partners’.”

Lomas adds that as well as benefits to the way people work and increased organisational productivity, promances have been linked to lower levels of absenteeism and turnover.

“Not only do people with good working relationships have a reason to turn up to work they also have an incentive to stay with the same company,” she explained. “While there is a risk of promantic partners both moving jobs together, research indicates that overall these people are less likely to leave than those who do not have a close friend at work.”

“In fact there is suggestion that these friendships occur even more frequently when people are faced with adversity or are unhappy in their jobs. In this way these relationships may be acting to protect both the individuals involved and their organisations from the negative effects of lower job satisfaction or decreased stability.”

Lomas said research consistently shows a relationship between workplace friendships and enhanced organisational outcomes therefore they should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

To encourage bonds between colleagues companies can employ strategies such as hosting social activities, corporate challenges or implement a buddy system.

However, as with any relationship there are risks with work spouse relationships. If a ‘work marriage’ breaks down it can negatively impact on the work environment in which case it would be vital to remind both parties to remain professional.

One of the main issues, particularly in a small team environment, is that those outside of the friendship may feel excluded. It is important the relationship doesn’t develop to the exclusion of friendships with others and those in a work spouse relationship keep the lines of communication open with others so it is not interpreted as a clique, or exclusive.

Do you have an office husband or wife?

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