My friend Danyelle Little, known online as The Cubicle Chick, has a great post about this fairly recent trend of the “work spouse” – guys having a “work wife” or ladies having a “work husband.” There are some myths surrounding this concept, and Danyelle does a great job of breaking them down – and mostly disproving them, such as the notion that having a work spouse will lead to an affair or that you’re attracted to the work spouse (generally not the case).
Being a male in a career that is 93-98% female, depending on which survey you read, has led me to being accused of having a number of “work wives” over the years. Nearly all of my corporate career was in large companies, which required anywhere from a few to large groups of admins to collaborate and function as its own team, separate from the teams we were actually a part of, to ensure the larger group (function, department, business unit, etc.) was running smoothly.
One of the myths Danyelle explored was that you spend more time with your work spouse than your actual spouse, which is often true in the corporate world, especially if you are salaried and work more than 40 hours a week and / or are expected to be available evenings and weekends. The remedy there is to ensure the time you spend with your actual spouse is very high-quality, which can compensate for the lack of quantity. If your spouse can say, “my needs are being met,” the quantity becomes less of an issue.
One tool I used to keep the lines clear and the roles separate was to ensure my wife personally knew any potential work wife. Since 99.9999999999998% of all people that have ever met my wife love her and think the world of her, that pretty much eliminated any possibility that the work spouse would ever be anything more than that. No work wife that ever met her would want to go there with her, as they loved her too much. And I, having shown others how good life was at home for me, would never be able to get a message that I was “looking,” if you get my drift.
The environment for having a work wife was always there for me, because, as I have said on many occasions, I believe administrative professionals form faster and stronger bonds than people in other professions. It might be the “Unsung Hero Syndrome” – admins are the most valuable people in the office and are paid the lowest salaries. What do you mean the admin isn’t the most valuable person in the office? Let that CEO go an entire 24-hour period without an Executive Assistant – either the assigned one or a backup. You’ll be lucky if the company still exists 24 hours later. The fact that we’re never paid close to what we’re worth gives us something to bond over (or drink over at times). We love to fix things and help others. When another admin needs something fixed or some other help, we dive in and help out, knowing we will be in the same spot eventually and that other admins will help us. We become best friends overnight. You should see us at admin professionals conventions; it might remind you of a church revival the way we greet each other with such affection and work so well in the breakout sessions during the classes. Also, given that only 1-6% of the attendees at these things are males, those of us males that do go are genuine rock stars. (Yes, of course we love it and of course we eat it up!)
Having just passed my first year in the Virtual Assistant world, I don’t yet know if the bond among VAs is as strong as the ones traditional admins develop, although what I have experienced to this point indicates it’s quite similar. With so much more of the work being done out in cyberspace instead of the traditional office and cube farm, you certainly don’t get to get together for coffee or give a big bear-hug for a promotion or major accomplishment. But a bunch of veteran VAs have shown the same willingness to assist, mentor and encourage new entrants like me that I saw in the traditional admin world. I feel good about being in that sub-community of admin pros. I also sense that the VA world is even more female-dominant than the admin world as a whole, which increases the possibilities of other work spouses.
Here’s a great potential benefit to the work spouse when you have a real spouse: You can get help with your relationship with the real spouse. Since men and women have such a challenging time communicating (you’re shocked to hear that, right?), you can always get advice from the work spouse. “We were having this disagreement – I said this, my spouse said that, we can’t find middle ground. How could I have handled it better? What should I do next?” Definitely cheaper than asking a therapist. (Nothing wrong with therapy, that was just a joke. 😊)
The work spouse can also be a great defender. If you find yourself in conflict with an adversary who makes false accusations, your work spouse is going to come to your defense. Hopefully the conflict doesn’t get overly-aggressive or personal; having someone vouch for you ends the conflict peacefully. It’s definitely better when someone has your back.
At this point in time, it’s hard to envision the work spouse concept disappearing. As long as it’s kept in the proper place and perspective, it can play a helpful role in keeping things running smoothly.