Human resource and recruitment firm Corporate Staffing Services has released an in-depth research on the reality of workplace spouses at the workplace in Kenya.
Work spouse refers to a co-worker, usually of the opposite s*x, with whom one shares a special relationship, having bonds similar to those of a marriage. Such relationships have given rise to phrases like workplace spouse, work wife, or office husband, and work husband.
Love in the office
While the trend of having work-spouses is growing, the majority of these relationships remain secret affairs, safely kept away from marital partners and bosses.
The report Inside the World of Work Spouses in Kenyan Organizations is based on research conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 among 2,550 employees. The survey defines a work spouse as a colleague of the opposite gender with whom you have a strong friendship and who meets your emotional needs at the workplace. The ‘spouses’ offer a close connection, support and advice on both work and personal issues.
According to the report, more than 64% of the respondents are currently in or have been in a work spouse relationship with a colleague.
“From the research, it is clear that work spouse relationships have a big effect on productivity and output. About 77% of the professionals said they are against work spouse relationships,” said Perminus Wainaina, the Managing Partners at Corporate Staffing Services.
Corporate Staffing also interviewed 150 human resource professionals to find out the effect of work spouse relationships on work productivity. The research shows that 52% of work spouse relationships tend to last between 1-4 years, with only 10% going beyond. Those in work spouse relationships below one-year point to about 38%.
These findings are in line with HR findings around how long people stay at jobs nowadays, which is between 1-4 years. In the structure of work spouse relationships, 90 % of the respondents said they mostly comprise people in the same administration level in the organizational hierarchy – i.e. a colleague either in the same department or in another department.
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Only a paltry 8% of respondents engaged in work spouse relationships with their subordinate or supervisor.
Corporate Staffing Services Managing Partner, Mr Perminus Wainaina, noted that work spouses make employees feel safer and supported because they have someone to bounce their ideas off of without feeling shy. They also help them get more work done faster because they work more seamless unlike if either of them had to work with someone less in synch with them.
However, on the flip side, work spouse relationships harm work productivity. They can lead to hurt feelings, divisiveness, tarnished reputations, and even attrition if employees feel they are in an unhealthy work environment. Just like in a real relationship, fallouts can be very messy.
Pros and Cons of Work spouses
In dissecting what the work spouses talked about and at what time, 59% of the respondents said they keep their interaction with the working spouse confined to the office, while 41% communicate even outside work on weeknights and weekends.
Some 60 % of what work spouses discussions revolve around the workplace. They can take many forms such as colleagues, work problems, current happenings and ongoing projects. Other topics such as religion and business come second at 12% followed by home issues, current affairs like politics at 10% each and recreational activities take up 8%.
The survey also brought to light that 52% of the employees have kept their work spouse as a secret from their real spouses. However, about 48 % of the employees have told their real spouses of their work spouse relationships. In understanding the influence of work spouse relationships on the individuals, the survey pointed out that 67% of the respondents have had their work spouse influence their career decisions.
Interestingly, 5% of the respondents pointed out that they have left a job after their work-spouse relationship turned sour.
Most organizations (51%) said they do not have any policies that provide direction on workplace relationships. “Bad experiences when work spouse relationships spiral out of control are the reasons why many firms opt for Human Resource policies,” he said.
He said those in work spouse relationships should exercise emotional intelligence, self-discipline and respect professional boundaries. “Organizations need to embrace the work spouse phenomena and include training on emotional intelligence, communication skills, and in addition to establishing their HR policies of acceptable behaviour”, Wainaina says.