We’ve all had that moment.
The skip in your step on your way into work, the anticipation of seeing that special someone…
…You’re going to see your ‘work wife’! (Or husband).
For those who haven’t come across the concept, let me explain. The work wife is essentially your soulmate at work. Of course, you can have a work husband too, but for the sake of easy reading & alliteration, let’s keep the concept simply as ‘work wife’ here. It is a platonic relationship however you have a deep connection expressed in shared values, honesty and fun! You can be vulnerable with them, argue but they bring out your best self at work and they are usually a peer.
I’ve had three significant work wives; and I’m not the only one. Speaking to a few friends tells me this exists in different companies, different disciplines and at different levels. But it is rare.
The concept in itself is important given our relationship to work, changing expectations and in the words of the CIPD, ‘championing better work and working lives’. Work is a place where we spend the majority of our time, so why would we not want to engage in and build significant relationships at work that are enriching and improve working lives? Given the nature of our profession, making friends at work is a tricky balance between friendship and being friendly.
So why do I advocate for a work wife?
- You deepen your connection to work. Yes, it’s connected to a person, but people create experiences and happiness. As engagement research tells us, building a strong connection to work increases performance, loyalty and commitment. It would be crazy to not acknowledge the impact of a work wife on better performance.
- You bring your authentic self to work. Having someone you can share the highs and lows of day to day experiences is a valuable thing. The person that can pick you up right before an important presentation or provide encouragement after a tough day of yet another grievance.
- You are more creative and innovative in the work you do. By being authentic and open, you have a relationship where you can be challenged, be challenging and receive feedback in real time, at work. This helps in adopting different approaches, considering other perspectives and bringing a freshness to your thinking.
We often talk about peer support as the means to tackling cultural and capability issues at work; and I whole heartedly agree. My work wives were peers and absolutely made me a better HR professional. To them I owe a huge chunk of my personal and career development. You may challenge me and say am I referring to coaching, perhaps mentoring or simply strengthening a peer network. Your work wife will probably encompass all three, but what makes this relationship distinct is that it’s personal and involves a vulnerability you reserve for your closest friends and loved ones.
However the work wife concept is fraught with tension – here are some pitfalls to be aware of when developing this relationship:
- Stay productive – this is not about cliques, gossip and slipping focus. If this a genuine work wife situation, you will be productive, engaged and perform better at work because of each other.
- The focus is your working life – this is about respecting each other’s personal lives and boundaries, and sharing your authentic self within this context.
- It’s the icing on the cake – it’s not something you find in every place you work, so your engagement and performance cannot rely solely on a work wife. See this as something that enhances and builds on something that exists already. A work wife is no reason to stay somewhere where you are unhappy.
Have a think, is there someone you admire, who brings something to the table that you don’t, someone whose company you find engaging and professionally stimulating? Someone who you can be really honest with, without judgement and makes a difference to the way you work? Chances are they could be your work wife!
I’d love you hear your thoughts and experiences around this subject. Share them below and add your tips & challenges!