The modern workday takes up a lot of your time. A typical workday runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the average commute hovers at about an hour a day total. That means that the majority of your time awake each day is spent at work—or getting there.
So it’s no surprise that you often form close relationships with colleagues, even to the point where you consider someone your “office spouse” or “work spouse.” According to a survey by Simply Hired, more than 50% of female employees and 44% of male employees said that they had a work spouse at some point in their careers. The topics they discussed with these coworkers ranged from other colleagues and work projects to problems at home, or sometimes even their sex lives.
Why do people find work spouses?
Whenever you work closely with someone, you communicate with them often. In order to understand what people are saying to you, you try to predict what they are going to say next. This happens at the level of tone of voice, words, grammatical structures, and also the broader concepts that person is trying to communicate. This prediction process leads you to mirror what the other person is saying as well, using a similar tone of voice, words, grammatical structures, and communicating about similar things.
When you engage with someone in this way for a long period of time, you naturally develop an affection for them. (I should point out that research suggests that these close relationships don’t generally lead to romantic relationships. Workplace romances that do happen typically involve a close working relationship with a colleague, but they are most likely to happen in office environments that are more open about sexuality. In many offices, where sex is not a frequent topic of conversation, a work spouse is much less likely to become a romantic partner. )
What purpose does a work spouse serve?
A number of studies suggest that having close friends in the workplace increases job satisfaction. Friends create a sense of teamwork and belongingness that helps people to think of their job as addressing goals broader than the self. Friends also provide a buffer for the stresses of the workplace by providing sources of strength and resilience in bad times.
In addition, the workplace is often a significant part of people’s identity. For example, when people are asked to give a variety of answers to the question, “Who am I?”, they frequently list their career as a part of that answer. So, it is important for self-esteem to have people in your life who deeply understand your career and why it is important to you.
Often, family members and friends outside the workplace do not have a real appreciation for what your career entails and what aspects of that career are most rewarding. (Also, there are very few people who understand just how annoying that one guy Matt in accounting is.)
A work spouse understands those aspects of the workplace, because that person is engaged in the same work, often for the same reasons. As a result, this person is someone that you don’t need to explain yourself to. It is valuable for people to have others who understand them and can validate their life choices.
Ultimately, human interactions create human relationships. The workplace may be an artificial place to meet others, but that doesn’t make the relationships created there any less real or less important.