my fiance got a job at my office!

A reader writes:

My fiance was offered a job in the organization where I’ve been working for just over a year. Before he and I ever started dating, he used to work for the woman who is now our Chief of Staff (COS). The COS is doing the hiring and would be his direct manager. I am in a different chain of command, but ultimately we all report to the same head of the organization. Everyone involved knows that we’re getting married in October. It’s possible that the fact that I’m a few offices away from COS brought my fiance to her mind when this position opened (she specifically contacted him and asked him to apply), but she is hiring him based on her previous knowledge of his work (and how he did in the interview process).

My question is this: I talked to the COS about whether there’s anything we need to think about or prepare for regarding our relationship in the workplace. I’m fairly hesitant about this, but she was frankly kind of dismissive of my concerns. I’m planning on scheduling a meeting with HR and my fiance after he comes on board, but do you think I should talk to them right now?

This is a great opportunity for him and we both really want him to take it, but I also want to do everything I can to make it be as drama-free as possible. Any tips?

Don’t schedule a meeting with HR or with anyone else about this. It’s between the two of you. You need to decide together how you’re going to handle the fact that you’re working with each other, but it’s not really other people’s problem, and you’re making it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. I mean, it’s of course a big deal to you two, and it’ll become a big deal to other people if you don’t handle it well, but asking for these meetings ahead of time is too much.

What you should do is sit down with your fiance and figure out how you’re going to (a) keep the relationship from being an issue for other people, and (b) keep work from being an issue in your relationship.

Keeping the relationship from being an issue for other people:

* Don’t gross people out. No pet names, no PDA, no adoring looks, no acting like a couple in the office. Your goal is that you act so professionally that people forget you’re a couple.

* No fighting each other’s battles. If one of you is having an issue with a coworker or a boss, the other one stays out of it. Even if you would normally get involved if you weren’t a couple, you stay out of it anyway, because everyone will assume you’re acting out of bias and your credibility will suffer. Be clear with each other ahead of time that this is how you’re going to operate, so that you’re prepared when it happens. And it will happen.

* If you’re not getting along, keep it out of the workplace. Inflicting tension (or arguing or outright nastiness) on your coworkers is unfair to them. Do you tend to fight? If so, have a game plan ahead of time for how you’ll deal with working together when you want to kill each other.

* Neither of you can supervise the other’s work, now or in the future. If one of you is offered a promotion that would have you managing the other person (directly or indirectly), you either turn it down or the other person finds a new job. It sucks, but that’s the price you pay for working with your fiance.

Keeping work from being an issue in your relationship:

* Make your home a work-discussion-free zone to whatever extent possible. If you spend all your time at home talking about work, bad things will happen. Not instantly (in fact, at first it will be fun), but eventually.

* Know ahead of time what you’re going to do if one of you is having a hard time at work — struggling in the job, not getting along with a boss, being warned that you’re in danger of being fired, etc. It is very hard for a partner not to be affected by that when they are working in the same workplace, and it can end up ruining the not-struggling partner’s ability to stay there too. It’s easy to think, “Oh, we’re both awesome at what we do, so that’s not going to happen,” but it happens. Figure out ahead of time how you’re going to handle it professionally.

In addition to the points above, make sure you’ve got your eyes open about some hard realities of working with your significant other:  You may hear unflattering comments about each other, and that will be uncomfortable. People’s opinion of one of you will impact their opinion of the other. If the organization has lay-offs, you might both lose your jobs at once. And more. Go into this knowing exactly what you’re signing up for.

And again, this is stuff for the two of you to figure out. No meetings with other people, just you two at your dining room table, talking it through. Good luck!

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    I’d also add to think about what you would do if the job doesn’t work out for one of you. It hard not to harbor some bitter feelings if you watch your spouse get axed. I can tell you from experience when one spouse leaves on less than the best terms it’s almost a given that the other isn’t far behind.

    1. Angela S.*

      At the company where my sister works, there used to be a husband and wife in the same office although different team. A few years ago when the company decided to cut back on staff it laid off the wife. The husband took it personally and walked into a manager’s office the same day the wife got laid off. The meeting didn’t go well and the husband quit the next day.

    2. Charles*

      I’ll second this. One place I worked a husband and wife team were key players in this rather small company.

      Layoffs were done and done badly (in fact, they weren’t called “layoffs.” In order to avoid higher unemployment premiums the company choose to “fire” folks instead; accusing some staff of stealing, etc. – BTW, a ploy that didn’t work as unemployment went after the company anyway – can anyone else say “mismanagement or fraud”?) The husband was one of the ones “accused” and the wife wasn’t.

      After all that it was very hard for any of us to come to work; but, it had to be extremely difficult for her. After a couple of weeks, I asked her how did she manage to come in and still be so professional. Her response was “well, we still have bills, and still need to eat. No sense in both of us losing our incomes.”

      Wow, kudos to her is all I can say.

      I’m not saying that this extreme case will happen to the OP; but it is something to consider – the loss of both incomes! In this job market, I would put that concern at the top of my list.

      1. Another Emily*

        This is another reason for a couple to always act extremely professionally! (As we all should anyway, but there is more scrutiny on couples in an office.)

  2. Another Anon*

    A company I worked for had policies about married couples working too closely. Check the personnel policy handbook. Reporting to HR could be required once you’re married.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yeah, you might need to formally disclose your relationship to HR, depending on company policy. Kudos to you for being really sensible about this, and congrats on your impending nuptials!

  3. Anonymous*

    I’d also add “Don’t take your work frustrations out on your spouse”. My husband and I briefly worked together, and one day he snapped at me. When we got a spare moment to ourselves, I asked him why he was mad at me. It turns out he was actually frustrated with some coworkers, and didn’t feel he could say anything to them. He didn’t realize he’d channeled his frustrations towards me–the one person he felt safe snapping at–until I confronted him about it. We were lucky that we were both able to calmly get to the bottom of the situation, but it was a big warning sign to both of us. I’d also caution against subliminal competition. In our case, we weren’t working together long enough to have problems, but I’ve been watching a couple I know where originally the husband was higher in the org than the wife. Now she is on a track to be a VP, and he’s actually begun looking for work elsewhere. While he’s happy for her success, I think a part of him is also jealous that he hasn’t been going anywhere.

    My husband and I will no longer work at the same company bc the dangers to our relationship are far greater than any rewards!

  4. Anonymous*

    Definitely be sure to leave the married life outside of work. I used to work with my husband, and once we left the property, we would act like a couple. At work, we would NEVER kiss, hold hands, no PDA whatsoever. People only knew I was his wife because he told people.
    When he was fired, yes I was upset, but I couldn’t let it affect my job. So, I had to create a disconnect in a way while he was there. We’d have lunch together, and talk in email, but that was pretty much it. Just pretend that he is a friend at work, that’s the best advice I can give.

    I used to work with someone who were joined at the hip and would have heavy PDA sessions with her husband at work during lunch and break, and it made her crazy when we moved. If he didn’t email her 10000000 times a day, or call her at every break and lunch, she would suspect he was cheating on her and she became very paranoid, which ruined a lot of work relationships, and put a lot of strain on her own relationship. That disconnect has to be created to save your own marriage and job.

  5. OP Here*

    Thanks so much for taking my question and for the great tips both in the post and the comments. My fiance and I sat down with your post and talked through it, and we will definitely take all of it to heart.
    I think my overboard reaction is based on the fact that I am the youngest person by a number of years at this level of the organization so ever since I’ve started here I’ve been very aware that the quality of my work and my professionalism has to be such that people only think about that and not my age. Without trying to brag, I think I’ve been successful so far. So now we’re introducing an element of my personal life into my professional sphere that I’ve been very careful about controlling. Again, we will do everything we can to make it not be an issue for anyone but the fact is that it’s out there and people know about it. Particularly early on before my fiance has a chance to prove himself, I’m expecting some comments from co-workers. We will take this in stride, and move on, and trust that it will die down eventually.
    To the comments about one or both of us getting fired or laid off: This was something we talked about at length before he decided to take the job. He is currently in a bad employment situation and when we weighed the risks and benefits of this move, it still seemed like the right thing for him. We’re also friends with a married couple who were working for different companies and still had the terrible luck to get laid off at the same time, so nothing’s certain.
    Again, thanks for the great advice!

    1. Community Chica*

      feel free to use my usual response when your colleagues ask you about his career or what he thinks about xyz in the office.

      “I don’t know. He is his own person. Ask him. Here is his email ID.”

      All said with a smile and wide eyed ‘what an out of the box idea! To think I would know about what he is thinking!’ style. Think Allison Brie in community.

    2. jmkenrick*

      We have a couple in a similar situation at my company – she was hired, and he already worked here and they live together.

      It’s totally a non-issue, I think for two main reasons:

      1) They don’t really socialize at work. They don’t ignore each other, but they don’t drop by each other’s desks, they don’t get lunch together, they don’t kiss or hug or talk about each other a lot.

      2) They don’t let other people use them as ‘representatives’ for each other. If you can’t reach Cleo, and ask Mark about it, he’ll suggest sending her an e-mail, or talking to her manager. If you’re wondering why Mark did a certain thing, Cleo will tell you that’s really not her department and you should check with him. They keep clearly separate work identities.

    3. khilde*

      OP – I think you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders and are trying to think things through so I bet you won’t have any problems. However, I’d caution you to not think about it so much that YOU start to make it weird (like Alison said). If you got a nonchalant response from the COS, then I’m guessing she doesn’t anticipate any problems. And presumably she’s been at the organization for a while and hopefully has a good feel for office culture.

      You mentioned something in this comment that jumped out at me: :Particularly early on before my fiance has a chance to prove himself, I’m expecting some comments from co-workers.” I’ll caution you that in general – a person finds what they are looking for. In other words, if you already anticipate people giving you ‘comments’, then it’s likely you’re going to more sensitive to things that you perceive as being a “comment” when it wasn’t intended that way at all. Did that make any sense? ha.

      My husband and I do different jobs entirely but report to the same supervisor. I totally support all the advice given thus far. We work in different buildings, but when our paths cross (usually at his office, where our supervisor also works), I don’t ignore him (cause that would be weird!). But I also don’t overly pay attention to him. I stop by his office say hi. Sit down, annoy him for a few minutes, and then leave. :) Just keep doing your job; don’t go looking for anything to be overly sensitive about and I think you’ll be fine!

  6. Community Chica*

    My boyfriend and I work together – in the same company site. He in engineering, me in marketing.

    We never use company IM channels to talk personal stuff. We use Skype to tell each other when we are leaving work.
    I never break protocol if I need some information from his team on some products. (not applicable to him)
    We never go for lunch together, unless we have no other option
    When we started dating, we told our managers, and I mentioned this to people I know in HR.
    We agreed with each other that we will look at the opportunity that either of us get as an opportunity for both of us as a unit, and make decisions accordingly.
    We do not touch or seek out each other at work.
    We do not skip team meetings and team events to hang with each other.
    We do not invite the other person to the dinners when either of our teams go out to dinner.
    We have 30 minutes each per day to bitch/talk/discuss work depending on how the day went, and then we drop the subject.

    The first month, it was all “Awww… are you not going to have lunch with each other.” from my colleagues and a few of his. But after staying professional for a while, the message got across and our colleagues do not talk to us about the other person unless it is to invite the two of us to a private party they are throwing.

  7. Steve Berg*

    “just you two at your dining room table, talking it through.” I would add that this would be a good topic to bring up in pre-marital counseling if you are or will be doing that.

  8. Anonymous*

    Let me just chime in here with another point: let me warn you – even if you do everything right, there may still be those at your office who act inappropriately toward either or both of you.

    It’s an open secret at my office that I am dating the network administrator. We are in completely different departments, have no managerial authority over one another, and generally don’t see each other much while at work. We have been as professional as possible with our relationship; however, people still seek to take advantage for their own benefit.

    For instance, people (including my manager) sometimes think it’s a good idea to approach me and ask me to “ask my boyfriend to fix the issue they’re having” instead of following procedure and putting in a help ticket. I have gone out of my way to tell them to follow the procedure but people still don’t listen. There is only so much you can do to limit others’ behavior toward you, but you really need to be prepared for how to handle them when they are inappropriate.

    That said, Alison is spot on in her advice to sort it out between the two of you. Don’t involve HR if you can avoid it.

  9. NicoleW*

    I think there are more negatives than positives in working at the same company, but that may be because my husband and I have done just that for nearly 7 years. We work in different locations and divisions, but our work paths do overlap in an average week.
    Even in different departments, we have many of the same deadlines and crunch times. For us, this means when one of us is stressed out at work, chances are the other is as well. It also means we struggle with child care issues since we may both need to attend the same after-hours meeting or out-of-town event.
    As much as we try to keep work out of the home, it doesn’t happen. Like any couple, we want to share something that went well today or something that sucked. But then even celebrating or venting leads to talking about work together.
    As others have mentioned, financial troubles in the company affect you more. For example, we have both been in a wage freeze for 3 years.
    Just the other day, I was in a meeting where one of the higher ups made fun of my spouse, I guess forgetting I was there. Talk about awkward!
    All that said, I wouldn’t have one of us leave the company if we didn’t want to. There are lots of downsides, but it can be manageable.

  10. aaj*

    I also work with my husband and have for maybe 9 or 10 years now. One suggestion I would make that I wish we had done, is make sure you eat lunch with other co-workers and not each other all the time. At first it’s fun, but you need to have your own work friends as well. Otherwise, I think we do pretty well. Like others said, treat him like a friendly co-worker while at work, and re-direct people when they try and get you to be messanger to your FI.

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