Workplace "Couples": Good or Bad?


The Second Marriage:
Workplace "Couples" Keep Each Other Sane

Doing love scenes is always awkward.  I mean, it's just not a normal thing to go to work and lay in bed with your co-worker.

- Denise Richards

by Jared Sandberg

Scott Felton and Amy Bishop make a beautiful couple. Inseparable as they are, they know each other's quirks: she likes collecting gargoyles in miniature and won't eat anything that smells "wrong," he says.  He hates it when people start a sentence they can't finish and favours ketchup on just about everything, she says.  Sure, they have their rough patches. born of typical jealousies and sensitivities.  Once, for example, Ms Bishop was interested in another man.  Says a huffy Mr Felton: "I wasn't too thrilled with him at all.  "Then, she felt a little neglected when he struck up a new relationship himself.  And sometimes Mr Felton was a bit sensitive to Ms Bishop's barbs, says their friend Angela Giampolo: "If I said it, it was funny.  If Amy said it, it was hurtful."  At one rocky point, Mr Felton told Ms Bishop that he didn't want to lose her and they patched things up, like any married couple.  Only, they aren't married.

Until recently, they were just co-workers at a Philadelphia coffee shop.  It's his night job and they met behind the shop on a cigarette break and eventually became friends.  There's no hanky panky - they have mismatched orientations - but they more or less agreed to take each other's hand to be unlawfully wedded work-husband and work-wife.  Forget workplace affairs, depressing and harmful as they can be.  Far more common - and more rewarding - are the workplace relationships that seem like an old marriage: inseparable, sex-free, sometimes cranky.  It's one of the rare moments where life bleeds into work, not the other way around.

Some work relationships, however, are every bit as complicated as marriage.  Despite a death-do-you-part lunch-break commitment, work partners can drive each other nuts.  They fight over money, require counselling and become as resentful and tiff-prone as any diamond-anniversary duo.  And in a blink someone can land in the doghouse or on the couch.  Lilli Friedland, an organisational psychologist who counsels executives, has worked with dozens of workplace noncouple couples.  Some of their problems include mounting resentments, poor communication or "growing apart."  Says an earnest Mrs Friedland: "I have to teach them how to grow together."

Organisational psychologist Dory Hollander says in many ways it's no different from same-sex workplace friends, except in one respect: "We're sort of wired in our male-female relationships to take on supportive roles, as opposed to same-sex relationships which tend to be more dominative or competitive," she says.  Two decades ago, Ms Hollander began to notice a "mood regulating" dynamic between opposite-sex workplace friendships that could keep the partners from flying off the handle.  "It wasn't an affair.  It was like a second marriage.  It was an intimacy and caring for each other," she says.

Nine-to-five nuptials spring from the huge amount of waking hours employees spend with their colleagues.  The central role work plays in our lives means we often have more things in common with colleagues than with spouses: the little office hells that bond us.  The latest office back-stabbings, which take our work-spouse's breath away, bore our real spouses senseless.

Ann Lang knows the feeling.  When she, her husband, Tom, and his work friend, Julie Gomoll, headed to Las Vegas together in April, Mrs Lang felt like a third wheel.  "I remember running behind the two of them trying to catch up," she recalls.  "Hello!  Remember me?  Hey guys, hey.  Hey!"  Mr Lang and Ms Gomoll are the founders of Halsoft, which runs an online chat service.  Mrs Lang, a stringer for People magazine, says she is more interested in the adventures of "Bennifer."  She tries to chime in, but they're otherwise engaged: "They both look at me with this sympathetic, patronising glance."

Mr Lang and Ms Gomoll often talk till the wee hours of the morning.  They bicker over finances: he thinks she spends too much, she thinks he's tight.  They even roll their eyes at each other when one starts telling a story the other has heard 20-too-many times.  Consequently, they suffer a bad case of mistaken matrimony.  Ms Gomoll's executive bio posted to the company's website concludes: "She is not married to Tom."

Some work couples have even weathered a trial separation.  Lyn Graft and Ingrid Vanderveldt, who met in business school almost 10 years ago, parted ways after the first company they co-founded ran out of funding.  "It was a nice break for both of us," says Mr Graft.  But opposites - she's the visionary, he the operations guru - do attract.  They missed each other.  Almost a year ago, they started another company, iVEEA, which creates digital media for entrepreneurs.  Their limited partnership excludes sex, Ms Vanderveldt points out, as if that distinguishes them from zillions of married couples.  "But we're married in every other sense of the word."  That includes commitment, trust and other ingredients for as happy an ever-after as work can provide.  "We've got a business marriage in perpetuity," vows Mr Graft; "No matter how bad things can get, I can trust her."

E-mail Jared at

Source: The Wall Street Journal Wednesday 24 September 2003

Of course, not everyone agrees that workplace couples are a good thing for one's existing marriage...

Co-Workers Can Wreck a Marriage: at the Office, Divorce Is Contagious

by Sue Shrellenbarger

Meet the new home wrecker: the office.

While the Other Woman (or Man) is usually cast as the villain of divorce in our culture, a Swedish study finds the workplace, the environment where many Americans spend most of their weekday waking hours, can play a destructive role.  The 7-year study of 37,000 employees at 1,500 workplaces provides empirical evidence that working with people of the opposite sex is hazardous to your marriage.

Working with co-workers who are all of the opposite sex increases the divorce rate by a startling 70%, compared with an office filled with co-workers of the same sex.  Whether the co-workers were single or married had no impact, says author Yvonne Aberg, now a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University, England.  The research looked only at statistical links, and didn't examine actual behaviour such as affairs.  But clearly it suggests that in the office, "it doesn't matter whether you're married or not.  It's open season" on prospective partners, says David Popenoe of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

Divorce is contagious, too.  A married person is 43% more likely to get divorced if 1/3 of his or her co-workers are recently divorced people of the opposite sex, than if none of the co-workers were recently divorced.  The effect shrank over time, suggesting it's the act of divorce, rather than simply being divorced, that sways others most, says Dr Aberg, who did her research at Stockholm University.  The study was confined to co-workers of compatible age (5 to 15 years younger or older, depending on sex).  By showing that office divorces can break out in what a separate study in Ohio called "a measles pattern," the research highlights the need for working couples to take steps to vaccinate their marriages.

The findings aren't surprising to one Dallas business consultant.  After his trusted wife of 20 years started working in a clinic where several co-workers were divorced, he says, she began dressing like younger colleagues and staying out very late at professional meetings.  Soon, it became clear she was having an affair with a co-worker, and the marriage fell apart.  "I believe a sort of euphoria and infatuation takes place between some people who work closely together," says the consultant.  "What starts out as a co-worker relationship develops into a friendship, then a deep friendship, and then into a relationship.  In my wife's case, work led to business lunches.  Business lunches led to 'nonbusiness' lunches and then to 'happy hours.'  And the whole thing led to divorce:"

The Swedish study is noteworthy in part because it's based on the government's records of divorces and employment, rather than on self-reports by participants, which tend to be less accurate.  While the study was presented at a conference in 2001, it only recently came to the attention of marriage researchers in the US.  Another powerful divorce incentive, the study found, is having a large number of single co-workers of the same sex.  The risk of divorce rises 60% if all co-workers of the same sex are single, rather than married - perhaps because the co-workers provide role models for the single life.

This isn't the first study to implicate office romance in divorce.  An online survey of 31,207 men and women showed that among the 62% who had at least one office affair, 9% said the breakup of an affair led to a marital separation or divorce, says Janet Lever of California State University, Los Angeles, author of the 2002 study for Elle magazine and  More than half of married respondents to Dr Lever's survey admit that when a co-worker flirts with them for fun, they flirt back.  "What starts out as 'just fun' can escalate.  And clearly, the marrieds are not out of the loop," Dr Lever says.

One production supervisor at a New Jersey manufacturing plant, where the staff is about equally split between men and women, says she had to steel herself to resist tumbling into a relationship with a handsome married co-worker who began flirting with her.  "Quite honestly, there was a thrill to it," she says.  "It's something to look forward to when you go to work ...the little innuendoes, the sly looks."

How do you protect your marriage?  One remedy that reduces the divorce risk by about half - but that isn't an option for most couples - is to work in the same office with your spouse.  Monitor your marital health.  If you sense a cooling of your relationship, Pat Gaudette of Lecanto, Florida, who runs an Internet divorce-support guide, suggests making a list of traits the relationship used to have, compared with now.  How often are you having sex, or simply quiet coffees together?  Don't let problems fester.  Talk with your spouse about negative changes.  Consider taking a marital-education course.  These classroom-style seminars, which run from one day to a semester, teach marital skills.

If he could start over, the Dallas business consultant says, he'd focus more on his marriage.  He regrets travelling a lot in a previous job: "It took me away from the family."  To avoid the pain of divorce, "you have to take the time to make sure the relationship is taken care of, even if it's just sitting on the back patio to talk."

How the Office Can Spur Divorce

If You Work with:

Your Divorce Risk Changes by:

100% opposite-sex
100% same-sex
co-workers who are single
25% newly divorced
opposite-sex co-workers
Your spouse in
the same office

*Versus an absence of such co-workers.
Data from Yvonne Aberg, Oxford University

Source: The Wall Street Journal Thursday 13 November 2003

See also:

bulletTest of Faith: Anatomy of an Affair - Thinking of cheating?  Here's what to expect...
bulletDangerous Passion - Why do women have affairs, risking abandonment and sometimes violence?  Buss suggests some combination of five factors...

Business Builds Spirit by Bonding

by Susan G Strother Clarke

On the job, Sandra Clark does what is expected of an accounting manager.  She crunches numbers and keeps the books for Insurance Office of America Incorporated in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  But she also participates in things that aren't part of her formal job description - like sampling coffees, eating ice cream and recently running in the downtown AT&T Wireless Corporate Run.

It's all in the name of team building.  She spends time getting to know colleagues, superiors and assistants - breaking down barriers between management and the rank-and-file.  "You are at work eight hours a day," Clark said.  "If you look forward to coming to work and enjoy what you do and the people you work with, you are more productive."

In the old days - before personnel departments became "human resource" areas- team building was simple morale boosting.  But as businesses flatten out their organisations, the idea of everyone being on one "team" is catching on.  It's more attractive than the classic pyramid.

Group activities at Insurance Office of America, which employs 80 people, occur throughout the week, most on the company's nickel.  In addition to weekday coffees and snacks, there are special lunches throughout the year - and even pumpkin carving at Halloween.  But the company's largest team-building event of the year is sponsorship of the 3.1-mile downtown run.  Tom Scalise, secretary and treasurer, is convinced the activities serve more than a social purpose - and cites a key statistic to prove it.

Turnover is a low 5% annually - which means the company may save more on employee-recruiting costs than it spends on activities.  "When we work together and play together, we have more in common with each other than if we just show up at a job and do our daily tasks," Scalise said.

Other team-building proponents swear by physical activities.  The Orlando, Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce uses a ropes course during its Leadership Orlando program, which is designed to acquaint executives and professionals with Orlando's business community.  The group spends a full day at Camp Wewa in Apopka, Florida.  They start by climbing low ropes and advance to some that are 30 feet above the ground.  The goal is to get people working together instead of competing, said Kristine Vorpagel Shields, who coordinates the effort.  "We are traditionally comfortable in doing things in an office or square room, with flip charts," Shields said.  "When you make us get in shorts and T-shirts and go outside are out of your comfort zone.  Anything can happen."

Consultant Dee Hansford recommends business owners consider volunteer work for team building - such as serving food at a shelter.  There, owners and managers who hold power end up bussing tables alongside clerks.  "You're all on equal footing," she said.

But experts caution that a single team-building event is not enough to instill permanently the all-for-one attitude.  Reinforcement is necessary through staff meetings or other discussions to keep the good vibes flowing.

Source: The Star-Ledger Monday 28 May 2001

Work should become more like your family?  Next there'll be dormitories for you to sleep in during the week.  You can see your regular family on weekends - that'll help keep relationships fresh.  Stay-at-home women could get in on the fun by swapping kids and paying each other to raise them.  Then they could see their own kids on the weekend for some "quality time."

Or, the strong attachments you make could be to your own "regular" families (a novel idea!).

Conference Bike

Click to begin

Source: It is said to lower inhibitions - so that after just a few minutes, even complete strangers will begin talking to one another and "adults are transformed into children..."  Just what is needed for co-workers!

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