work spouses, creativity vs. productivity, and more

Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now: the trade-off for getting your team to be more creative, whether having a “work spouse” increases your productivity, and more. You can read it here.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

    1. Menacia*

      Yes, I was wondering what a “world” spouse was…thinking it was being married to someone from another country, which instantly makes someone more interesting? ;)

  1. Almond Milk Latte*

    “Jen is my friend, and I want to do good by her. I have a wife at home, and just as I want to make sure I empty the dishwasher, with Jen I want to do my action item.”

    As a Jen who’s currently hanging on a couple of action items, I guess it’s time to pop the question. I just hope office polyspousery is a thing.

    1. olympiasepiriot*

      Only with lots of checking in. Personally, I think I need a safe word with two of my work spousi.

    2. Kuroneko*

      I’ve had two work wives at one time (We were pretty open about it),
      along with a work-mistress and a work side-chick.

      1. Creag an Tuire*

        So, if I get along with both male and female colleagues, does that make me work-bisexual? Is a productive team meeting a work-orgy? How far down does this rabbit hole go?

  2. Jane Doe*

    Re #2. I’ve learned recently that being too trusted can be a double-edged sword. My (very small) department was pretty much self-run (and very competently so). There was a reorganization that led to reclassifying many positions, and since there was no one in management making the decisions who really understood all that we were responsible for, we were reclassified incorrectly (to the point that it’s a disadvantage not just for the team members but also for the company). And of course now management wants us to do all the work to fix their mistake, because now HR, a union, and multiple departments are involved, so lots of paperwork must be submitted.

  3. more anon than usual*

    I want a work spouse! I tend to agree that they enhance performance and make life at work much easier and more pleasant. I’ve had them in previous jobs, but where I am now, I have an office frenemy instead, and that has the opposite effect!

  4. Vorthys*

    My “work spouse” relationship has absolutely increased my engagement in my job, and has made it much less stressful.

    One down side of our close association, though, is that we have to deal with people assuming we have the same expertise. Our skills are complementary without much overlap, so you can’t get the whole package without engaging the two of us and paying for the man hours involved. I get more than a few proposal writers assuming they can cheap out.

  5. B*

    Yes, being trusted is a double-edge sword. It can be a great learning experience but the amount of work you can become bogged down with is a bit much. As well, if it’s that well-known in the office it can have a positive and negative effect on working relationships. I think it is all a manner of how you manage it.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      My friend is in this situation right now. She had a meteoric rise in her division, was promoted quickly, and now they dump the work of her less efficient coworkers off on her. She’s resentful of the coworkers and is now actively looking for another job even though she’s very well compensated for what she does. It’s a shame because she really loved her job when she first started.

  6. neverjaunty*

    Please accept this as the condensed version of my rant about the term ‘work wife’ or ‘work husband’ (or generically ‘work spouse’). If it’s two people of the same sex who have that kind of collegial friendship, we just say they’re friends or work buddies, but it baffles me that people still buy into this notion that relationships between men and women must have at least a quasi-romantic overlay.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yeah, I’m a bit confused why it’s not just a teammate. Our team is responsible to each other, we have each others back. I’m closer to some than others, but not to the point that I’d ever use the word ‘spouse’ as part of the description.

      1. danr*

        What if you’re not on the same teams, but have developed the friendship over the years? Your tracks through the company are parallel, not intersecting.

      2. fposte*

        I take the point about the weird implications of the term, but I also don’t think “friend” covers it. To me a work friend is somebody who’s identified in opposition to a “regular” friend–they’re people you’re friendly with at work but not elsewhere. We’re also looking for a term that covers an intimacy and a commitment that I think “friend” is too open-ended for. It’s kind of interesting–this is a pretty important concept for a lot of people but we’re really short of language for it.

        I’ve had a full-on spousoid level before, but though I don’t know I still have a couple people who are far more than teammates or work friends. How about “blood comrades”?

        1. bridget*

          I’ll buy that. But I’m with neverjaunty et al.; let’s not settle on “work spouse” as our descriptor as we search for the perfect phrase to capture this relationship. It’s more intimate than “work friend,” but I’d like to excise any and all associations with one’s primary and/or sexual relationship. In that way, “work spouse” is also inaccurate (and unlike “work friend,” is inaccurate in an extra-awkward way). I’ll start referring to the person who fills this role in my life as my comrade-in-arms.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I really started liking the “comrades” thing, and I would be happy to throw “blood” in there for emphasis. Maybe I’ll start using that.

            And I do think that there’s some history of using “work spouse” for the person of the spouse’s gender who has the day shift, and I can see wanting to get away from that.

              1. simonthegrey*

                I call them battle buddies. Of course, I call the kind of tutoring we do “tutoring triage” so it goes together.

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      For me the “work spouse” term denotes a more specific type of relationship. There’s no quasi-romantic overlay for me, but it conveys a relationship that goes beyond a work friend. I have lots of work friends: we work on projects together, we know stuff about each others’ personal lives, and we enjoy chit-chat. My work spouse is the person I count on to have my back in a bigger way than my regular work friends. Maybe “work brother/sister” would convey the relationship the same way, but it’s a more familial relationship to me than my average work friend.

      1. NJ Anon*

        I usually refer to them as my “best work friend” or “best friend at work.” Last job it was male (I’m female); this job its female.

    3. Shell*

      Really? I have absolutely used the term “work spouse” with two people of the same gender. They are totally the “finish each other’s sentences, vent to each other about things, have each other’s backs, totally understand each other and each other’s work” type of work relationship. I think “work spouse” implies a higher level of friendship than “work buddies”, since my buddies at work don’t finish my sentences.

      That said, I don’t call them “work spouses” to their faces. But if I describe them to other people that’s absolutely the term I’d use because it implies a different level of closeness than “buddies.”

      1. neverjaunty*

        The fact that you don’t call them that to their faces is interesting. Why not, and why isn’t that the same as calling them “work buddies”?

        1. Shell*

          Generally speaking, spouses/partners carry a connotation of being closer than “friend”. There are exceptions of course (I’m sure many people here can give examples of the friend that’s closer than a brother/sister and they’ve known each other since they were in diapers, or whatever), but that’s the general implication. So I think “work spouse” conveys a level of closeness that “work friend” or “work buddy” doesn’t automatically imply.

          I don’t call them that to their faces because I have a personal policy of not calling anyone any nicknames unless given express permission to do so. Which means 99.9% of the time in my real life, I call people by their names (given or preferred) whether I’ve known them for two months or eight years. The fact that the people I’m thinking of in my example are both married adds a level of inappropriateness, but even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t make that sort of comment.

          1. neverjaunty*

            But there’s nothing inappropriate about married people having close friends or colleagues at work, so why would it add a level of inappropriateness?

            I’m asking rhetorical questions; there’s a connotation to ‘work spouses’ that’s kind of icky and rooted in a lot of assumptions about how men and women interact, and it often has an undertone that maybe the people involved are attracted to each other. Work buddies” or “friends” doesn’t have that connotation.

            1. Shell*

              Again, I pretty much always call people by their names so the point is rather moot.

              I am 100000% behind married/partnered people having friends (including friends of the gender the person in question is attracted to) outside of the marriage/partnership. That said, many people are uncomfortable with “sharing” a title, joking or not. I think it is as unwise to directly call Jane “Sarah’s second wife” (even if they’ve been best friends since they were in diapers) as it is to directly call her “Sarah’s work wife” (even if they totally have each other’s backs at work and are practically telepathically linked, above and beyond what I think of as “work buddies” level). It’s a social minefield thing.

              I do find “work spouse” a useful descriptor for the reasons I mentioned above, so if I were talking about Jane and Sarah I would probably describe them as “work spouses” rather than spend another five minutes elaborating on all the ways they are practically telepathically linked and know what each other is thinking, beyond the level of what I think “work buddy” implies.

              I mean, I see your point about automatically assuming that, if the descriptor is used on a man and a woman, they are attracted to each other, but it looks like I’m not the only one who has heard/who uses this descriptor across all genders so I think that’s changing.

              1. OK*

                Here’s an easy way to describe them that doesnt use spouse. It also conveys that closeness without having to explain it.

                “They are different halves of the same brain” or “They share a brain”.

            2. PontoonPirate*

              I’m a woman, and I’ve had a “work wife” in the past. Only speaking anecdotally, but we’ve not ever felt one iota of attraction for each other. The term denotes a deeper relationship than most working relationships, and in point of fact I’ve been good friends with both of the work spouses–aforementioned wife and before her a husband (and his wife)–outside of work.

              1. Formica Dinette*

                To add another layer of complexity, I’m a woman and my former work husband is gay. We’re still friends outside of work, but I really miss having him in my work life too. *sniffle*

        2. Elsajeni*

          Eh, I think it’s partly just that it’s “not done” to assign two people a specific relationship like that if they haven’t described themselves that way first. If you notice that Sharon and I seem very close, and you want to comment on it, it’s going to be a bit weird if you say “It’s so nice that Sharon is your best friend!”, even if you really think it’s true. I think it’s about how limited the type of relationship is — it’s fine to say that Sharon is my friend or my work buddy, because I have lots of those; it’s weirder to say that Sharon is my best friend or my work wife, because each of those is kind of a one-special-person category and I may have someone else in it already.

    4. Sarasaurus*

      Yeah, something about the term rubs me the wrong way a little. It does strike me as a bit on the flirtatious side. It’s just as easy to call someone your work friend, and that carries the same meaning without the romantic undertone. I have plenty of friends, but only one spouse. Maybe it’s an old-fashioned view to take, but I wouldn’t love being referred to as someone’s “work wife.”

    5. Elysian*

      Agreed. You said it before I got here to say it! The term needs to die – they’re just work friends.

    6. Delyssia*

      I am a woman. I have had a work wife, but not a work husband. I’ve only had one work wife, but I’ve had many friends at work or work buddies. In other words, I completely reject that there’s any sort of “quasi-romantic overlay” to the work spouse relationship, and a work spouse is not at all the same thing as a work friend.

        1. Delyssia*

          Work spouse gets at a level of closeness that work friend does not. I guess work BFF could stand in, in a pinch, but that sounds awfully infantilizing and isn’t as broadly understood as work spouse.

          Why not a work husband? For the same reason I’ve only had one coworker I’d describe as a work wife–I just haven’t found anyone else who I clicked with that way.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            I agree with all of this–I am a woman, the one ‘work spouse’ I’ve ever had was another woman. And we actually did refer to one another as ‘work wife’–I mean, jokingly, but it’s not a deadly serious term in any case. I’ve never had a work husband simply because I’ve never had a male coworker who I clicked with to the same degree, but it’s entirely possible that I might in the future.

            I wouldn’t apply the term to someone else third-party because I could definitely see it rubbing someone the wrong way, but for us, it was a lighthearted way of referring to a particularly close and interdependent working relationship. I guess the reason that ‘spouse’ made sense to me in that context is that the sense of closeness and relying on one another was more familial than friendlike. ‘Work sister’ would maybe have been similar and implied a similar closeness/trust/reliance, but since ‘work wife’ was an already-existing term we used that.

            This whole thread is really making me miss her! She moved on to bigger and better things, and I’m thrilled for her, and we’re still friends outside work, but I miss the heck out of her in the day-to-day.

            (I actually work at the same company as my actual husband, albeit in different chains of command, and amusingly enough, he has never been my ‘work husband.’)

        2. PontoonPirate*

          Because your spouse is different than your friend in your personal life, so it makes sense that it would be different through the lens of a work-oriented relationship. And, although I can’t speak for Delyssia, I presume she’s never had a work husband because chance and fortune have never put a man in her work orbit with whom she’d developed that rapport.

    7. Honeybee*

      Actually, I’m a woman who has called another woman my “work spouse” before, and I’ve heard lots of people in my circles refer to this concept across gender. In this instance I think spouse doesn’t imply a romantic relationship but rather a really close, supportive relationship – like the partnership part of a marriage.

    8. Cat*

      I always think of the 30 Rock episode where Jack and Liz were asked to define their relationship and Liz said “work husband slash uncle” while Jack said “co-worker slash little brother.”* Some relationships are just kind of hard to define. (I also have a work husband slash uncle.)

      * I looked it up – I do not just have 30 Rock memorized (only mostly memorized).

        1. Cat*

          It is so good. Especially season 2, so even if you don’t love the first couple of episodes I definitely recommend sticking with it.

      1. fposte*

        I was thinking of that! I love that scene very much–I love all the scenes that go into the vital and weird intimacy between Liz and Jack and where it does and doesn’t go.

    9. AnonACOD*

      Work spouse isn’t a compliment around here. It’s a word we use to describe somebody we spend WAY too much time working with and don’t particularly enjoy it (I work in an overhead function that interfaces with many technical departments).

    10. anonanonanon*

      Yes. The term makes me vaguely uncomfortable and I would not be okay being called a “work spouse” by anyone.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. I find it creepy, and hope to never have a “work spouse” even though I’m happy to have close partnerships working with people where we’re great friends. The label just feels nasty to me.

        I’ll be honest, the first time I heard it – and, now that I think of it, the ONLY time I heard it – I actually wondered if they did have a romantic relationship in the office, until I contextualized it by how they acted. I did _not_ have a frame for the term before then, and seriously, that’s where it immediately took my mind.

        I don’t know where it’s prevalent, but not where I’ve been. It’s weird, it’s creepy, and if we need a better word/phrase then we do – but this one isn’t it.

        1. OK*

          I always grouped co-workers into the aquaintence group. Friendly, but not friends.
          Friends are people I trust and that I interact with fairly regularly. People that know me and my life. Some are people I work with.
          I am not sure why we need a phrase like work spouse when we already have the words. People just use them incorrectly.

    11. Non profit Rachel*

      I don’t love the phrase “work-spouse.” BUT, I have to say I love having a co-worker I am friends with, can trust, can count on to have my back, and who I know will work hard to keep up their end of the bargain. It’s a lifesaver!

      How about renaming it “ThePersonITextWhenINeedHelp”? Or “TheColleagueWhoHelpsMeBrainstormHowToDealWithCrazyBoss”? Or “CoworkerICanCountOn”?

    12. Xanadu*

      My “work spouse” and I use “tag team champions” as our go to and we have matching wrestling belts in our offices. We joke that we have to have an excellent tag game to keep the group moving. [obviously our workplace is somewhat casual… or the WWE.]

    13. Anon Good Nurse*

      I see a lot of women saying they’d use this language for a male or female co-worker, so it’s gender-neutral. But I feel like that kind of points to the fact that we still only see these terms used when there’s a woman in the mix (either in a male-female partnership or a female-female partnership.) I cannot imagine two men, especially two straight men, calling each other work spouses or husbands.

      Obviously, “would straight men do it?” isn’t the best barometer for whether something should be done or not, but it does point to how cutesy, pseudo-romantic language is pervasively used with women in a way it’s not with men, and the whole trend feels trivializing to me, especially in the workplace. (As a queer woman, it’s always bugged me how men have “friends” but women have “girlfriends.” But that’s a battle I know was lost before I was born.)

  7. Another Job Seeker*

    I’ve never had a “work spouse”, but I have had a male friend at work (platonic friendship – and I am a female) who I was very close to. Neither of us is married. If either of us had been married (or if either of us was in a relationship), I would not have allowed the friendship to become as close as it did (and I doubt that he would have either). Although we did not use the term “work spouse”, the concept was there. We had each other’s backs. We were both looking for other jobs (he found one, I have not yet), and we were references for each other. It definitely made things easier. I felt that I could be open with him about workplace politics, my long-term plans, and concepts I did not know. He helped me to learn some things that helped me do my job better. Having a trusted friend at work (whether the person is considered a work spouse or not) was a blessing and helped me immensely.

    1. SystemsLady*

      I have one as well, though on my side I’m married and I’d refer to him more as “work brother”. Work spouse the way I’ve heard it implies a small undercurrent of non-platonic chemistry that just isn’t there.

      Platonically though, we are almost perfectly matched as friends. If it weren’t the case that both my husband and I seem to lack the jealousy circuit in our brains, I think I’d probably have to step back a bit. But he has close opposite sex work friends as well, so it’s all good.

      In addition to all that, it’s nice to have somebody you can bounce ideas off of even when they come up after hours or it’d normally be considered a silly little thing to even even bother talking to somebody about.

      (He and my husband also get along famously, having many of the same interests but complementing personalities. My work brother lives in a different city, travel heavy job etc., and both are always *visibly* bummed when we miss an opportunity to hang out as a group of three.)

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    “If an organization truly wants creativity, it has to start by hiring more people than it needs just to complete the tasks required for the company to stay afloat.”

    I want to embroider this on a sampler and send it to every agency higher-up ever.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, it’s really amazing what can be done when you give employees a chance to improve how the business is run. The additional autonomy, morale boost and employee buy-in is really, really helpful.

  9. Bob*

    #2 I agree completely that being trusted and dependable often gets you a heavier workload but I don’t think you can get away from it. It’s the universal truth: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. And managers get judged by what their overall team gets done so the quantity and quality of the team’s work will usually outweigh distributing work fairly.

  10. Shelly*

    I call my women coworkers my “work wives” or “work sister wives” to their faces and to others, when appropriate. I’m a woman, too, so I don’t think the whole concept of a “work wife” or “work husband” needs to give in to heteronormativity. Just don’t take it so seriously.

  11. Pennalynn Lott*

    I still remember the woman manager I had who called each of her successive [male] co-managers [whether they worked well together or not] her “work husband”. Complete with flirty hair tosses and plenty of eyelash batting. Right up until the very last male co-manager who — when they’d only been working together for a few days and she’d called him her “new work husband” in front of a bunch of us — said, “Uh, what? No, that’s not even remotely appropriate. I’m your co-worker.”

    Godz, I hated that woman and how she played favorites. I was very, very glad to see her get put in her place. [I still have nightmares about working for her, and it’s been over 5 years.]

  12. jesicka309*

    The problem with work spouses is that while they may be extra productive *themselves*, it can actually be quite alienating for their co-workers. There is a pair in my team who have really clicked and call themselves ‘work wife’ & ‘work husband’, and their behaviour sometimes borders on exclusive. I’ve gone out to lunch with them a number of times and it’s hard not to feel like a third wheel between their banter and in jokes. At the Christmas party they were the dynamic duo which would be fine, except they didn’t really talk to anyone else besides each other and you got the distinct feeling you were ‘interrupting’ if you tried to join their conversation. Don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly lovely people and complete professionals on their own, but when they’re together it becomes a very cliquey thing that people have commented on in a negative way. Just something to note for those in a ‘work spouse’ relationship!

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