The rocky waters of relationships on the job are best navigated with eyes wide open. We bring you tips on how to deal with the high-risk work-life triangle that can put more than your career in jeopardy. Working together is high risk, but offers high returns, too.
The saying ‘being married to the job’ is given a different slant if you actually work with your spouse.
In the recently released film, Good Night and Good Luck directed by George Clooney about the fight against Communism in America during the 1950’s, a couple is featured who hide the fact that they are man and wife because it is against the rules of their workplace, CBS television. One of them is obliged to resign. Thankfully we’ve come a long way from marital status interfering in the job. But being on the job with your romantic partner doesn’t necessarily mean a decline in efficiency. It could be a win-win-win situation.
Partners in every sense
Behind every great man is a great woman, says the cliche, and there might be a ring of truth in it. But the great woman needn’t be out of sight. She could be there right by his side. And vice versa.
The upside of working together is that your quality time as a couple can be increased. The typical eight-hour workday, which so often stretches out to nine and even ten hours, takes up the major portion of our lives. So it might make sense to spend it with your spouse, instead of snatching what little alone time you can get in between the chores and children. The commute to work, getting stuck in traffic even, can turn into quality time. So imagine what the whole day can do to your relationship?
But who rules the roosts?
Is it even politically correct at all to ask whether the woman can be boss at the office? A couple who run an IT company comment on their take on this situation. Mark’s opinion: “There are more pluses than minuses. Both of you have the same aims, you can help each other, both partners have a vested interest in the other’s success so there can be more enthusiasm.
“Because you’re on call 24/7, there’s more communication. You don’t need to set up meetings and you can discuss issues at any time. There is a danger in that you put all your eggs in one basket. On the other hand, if there are complementary skills you can make a great team.”
Clare says: “Working together is great if you have a good relationship and both are confident. You rate highly your partner’s eyes. You have to have high tolerance levels and avoid conflict and confrontation at all times – something you should do anyway as there are other ways of resolving differences – conflicts will spill over into your private life. You also have to learn to leave any private quarrels at home or work will be disrupted and other members of staff will feel uncomfortable.
“You may find you have company on a business trip – if your partner is your boss, he/she will encourage you to take time to go to children’s sports days etc. You will be more understanding about what is worrying your mate. You can pat each other on the back for your successes – both the hard times and the good times should bring you closer together.
“My advice is to be very clear not only about what you both want, but more importantly about what you both don’t want before you start the business – anything relating to tasks, workplace, hours etc. A good business plan and a contract is a good idea, same as you would have with any other person. Make sure you don’t take too many risks, such as raising capital by mortgaging your home, as you could both end up jobless and homeless.
“The downsides are, that should the business fail and one out of three do, you’ll both be out of work. When things are busy and you’re short-staffed, who’s keeping the home fires burning? It might erode a shaky relationship. And you may not be able to take holidays together for years.”
Business, affairs and hard work
Working with your partner will highlight the fissures and cracks that might not come to the surface when you work in different places and spend little time together. So don’t go for this option unless you both expect it to get tough. Some people freak out under pressure, or metamorphose into the office flirt. Then there is the example of the woman who, not wanting to give her better half any preferential treatment went to the other extreme and treated him coldly. “I was so shocked by her behaviour towards me that I wouldn’t accept it was really happening. She wouldn’t look me in the eye or show any kind of warmth whatsoever, not even a smile. I wasn’t expecting kisses and cuddles, but a private wink or raising of the eyebrows would have been enough. She was so nervous about not putting a foot wrong that it made me miserable. She didn’t explain it all to me for years afterwards.”
Your work life comprises one third, at least, of your waking day. Because of this, the shared interests that are part and parcel of the job, actual physical proximity and the camaraderie that ensues, the intimacy that is possible between people who work together might well make the workplace one of the best places to actually meet a partner. (It is also the reason why some women choose their husbands’ secretaries for them.) Add to the regular workday routine socialising as a team (team-building events), Christmas parties and trips abroad, and it is only a matter of time for relationships to form. Falling in love on the job might also add an exciting rose-tinted dimension to the humdrum and stress. All well and good when both parties are single, but how does it affect the married couple?
It can cause a strain, especially for the male who identifies himself with his job. A hotel receptionist whose wife is in reservations, describes his experience: “After six months of married life I thought I was going to explode. I didn’t have any time at all just for myself, and I missed that. Before, my job was part of who I was, outside of the relationship. Now I have to actively seek out ways of taking time-out during evenings or weekends. I feel selfish, but it’s for everyone’s benefit and sanity in the end.”
Keeping an eye on your partner throughout the day may be one way of preventing him or her from straying! This idea is an extension of that held by a social worker who has seen too many errant husbands bringing home trouble in one form or another. She explains: “I won’t even have Internet at home. I pretend that we cannot afford it, because I want to keep him away from the temptation of chatting with other women. I would love to work in the same place as my husband. He’s good-looking, and I hate to think of all those factory girls after him.”
Role’s up for grabs
Actually being in each other’s presence during the day could help to shake up the traditional expectation of who does what household chores back home. At the moment, the woman is still expected to do the grocery shopping, cook, do the cleaning and look after the children, even though she works full-time.
One couple still love to tell the story of the culture shock they had to go through when starting a business together. “Looking back now, we laugh at that first day. We had been at the shop together, newly weds, and we had barely made it through the front door than my husband asked, ‘Where’s the dinner?’ He couldn’t get his head round the idea that the meal wasn’t instantly ready like when he was at home with mum, but also it hadn’t occurred to him that this was something else to negotiate. Actually, we hadn’t thought about it much at all.”
A real bonus
Is having a partner at work ever seen as a benefit by employers? Yes. There are a few careers and situations where ‘bringing the wife along’ is actually encouraged. They are usually those involving travel to distant places or long periods of time away from home. A yacht skipper, whose wife is the chef or stewardess, is thought to be happier than someone who has to leave his wife at home for five months at a stretch.
The challenge of working with your partner is that any hiccoughs will be highlighted and could almost be put into the agenda of the weekly meeting. You cannot leave your relationship at home, it is part and parcel of who you are. If the relationship is strong on the whole, it will survive the proximity. Just as there are those who would advocate never getting your husband to teach you how to drive, there are others who like to do everything as a couple. Shared interests could be the bonds that keep married couples together in the long term. In these turbulent, confusing times, that’s worth thinking about.
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