- A portion of millennials “disapprove” of having a work spouse, according to a new survey.
- My truth, as a Gen Xer, is: Work is often lonely and annoying, and everyone needs a work spouse.
- We all need a colleague who gets us, who has our back, and who can offer “butt-kicking candor.”
You may now Slack the bride.
Well, it’s hardly ever that formal. But, for many of us, having a work spouse we can depend on is invaluable. Not so much, it seems, for millennials, according to a new survey.
As a 40-something Gen Xer, I’m here to speak my truth: Millennials, you’re wrong. Everyone needs a work spouse.
Work spouses are close colleagues who rely on each other for support, friendship, and gossip. There’s no sex, hardly any fights, and lots and lots of work talk.
Work can be a lonely, and often annoying, place. We all need a colleague who gets us, who has our back, and who will readily listen to our very valid complaints when the boss is being a total jerk. “Work spouse” is really just another name for “work best friend.”
In a Newsweek poll of 1,500 American adults, 57% of surveyed millennials, which the study categorized as people 25 to 34 years old, said it wouldn’t be acceptable to have a work spouse. Most surveyed Gen Zers, ages 18 to 24 in the poll, and surveyed boomers, ages 55 and up, were fine with the relationships.
At the risk of sounding like a meddling middle-ager, maybe the reason millennials are so disdainful of work spouses is that they just haven’t met the right person yet. All those avocado-toast-loving kids don’t know what they’re missing.
‘These are relationships that often outlast jobs’
Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, the coauthors of the book, “Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses,” told Insider that the “work wife” dates back to the 1930s. A man at that time might have had a wife at home and a “wife” at the office — often his secretary — both of whom took care of all his needs.
The concept has evolved beyond caretaking, however. “It’s more than a friend at the office; it’s a partner and a teammate,” Mazur said. “You’re each other’s sounding boards — you offer guidance and insights. These are relationships that often outlast jobs.”
Millennials’ opposition might be for moral reasons. True, work relationships can get a little too close, which can be personally compromising when one or both parties are already in committed relationships. Many millennials are now in the throes of settling down with actual spouses and partners, and might view work spouses with suspicion.
But that reasoning assumes that adults cannot have platonic relationships with other adults. Cerulo noted that there’s value in having a close colleague with visibility into your personal life. She pointed to a friend of hers who leaned on his work husband after a death in his family.
“He needed to bow out of some obligations, but he didn’t want to have to talk to clients about it,” she said, adding that his work husband was, “someone who had context and who understood what he was going through at home.”
The beauty of ‘butt-kicking candor’
Millennials might take exception to work spouses because they believe in a firm separation of work and home. In this late-pandemic moment, when many people are reevaluating how work fits into their lives, they might decide that work spouses aren’t worth it.
But studies suggest that these are, in fact, important relationships to cultivate — both for your stress levels and for your career. Research shows that having a best friend at work increases your productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction.
“I call them lifeline relationships,” Keith Ferrazzi, the founder of the consulting-and-coaching firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, said.
He told Insider that a work spouse is someone, “who you can be vulnerable with and turn to in difficult times.” He added that this person speaks to you with “butt-kicking candor,” and “tells you the truth when nobody else will.”
Lakshmi Rengarajan, a consultant who works with companies on issues around networking and workplace connections, has another theory about millennials’ opposition to the term: It’s exclusionary.
“If you’re using that language, there are going to be people who are paired up and those who are single and left out,” she told Insider. “You’re inadvertently laying down territorial lines and setting the stage for alliances.”
So perhaps the expression is a bit outdated and/or tone-deaf. There’s no need to leave people out. This isn’t middle school.
Yet that doesn’t negate the need for having a certain someone at work who’s in your corner, supporting you, helping you, and cheering for you. At a time when so many of us are rethinking how we balance the pressures of an always-on work culture with a desire to carve out time for ourselves, it’s arguably more important than ever to have a work spouse.
Besides, who says you need just one?