When Sarah* is having a lousy day at work she doesn’t call her fiance to complain about it. Instead, she makes a beeline for her company’s marketing department where her friend, Belinda* works. The pair may escape for a quick coffee break or take a short walk around their office building, giving Sarah the opportunity to vent about whatever is bothering her, away from eavesdropping colleagues.
“Belinda is my rock at work. I don’t know what I’d do if she ever left the company,” says Sarah, a 32-year-old communications manager. “My work stress simply melts away when I talk to her, and if I’m experiencing a particular problem with my boss, for instance, she buys me little treats to cheer me up. Because she doesn’t work in the same department as me, she can listen to me objectively, but at the same time, she understands my frustration because she works in the same industry. There’s no point telling my fiance about my issues at work because he wouldn’t understand.”
Amanda*, 28, has similar sentiments about her colleague, Tanya*. The two sales managers, who work side by side but in separate cubicles often cover for each other when problems arise. “If I’m struggling to complete a proposal on time, Tanya may help me with it, and vice versa,” says Amanda. “And if the boss comes down hard on her, I always step in to defend her, and I know she’d do the same for me. We’ve got each other’s backs, which is so important in this dog-eat-dog corporate world. Like a spouse, she looks out for me and gives me help when I need it.”
Do you have a “work wife”?
Your work wife can be male or female, but he or she is someone who is there to help you pick up the pieces when things fall apart at work. If you need to do overtime, she will offer to stay behind to keep you company. She may even grab dinner for you. She’s also someone who encourages and motivates you, someone who “gets” you. In short, she’s one of the reasons why you look forward to going to the office every day. You may not socialise with each other on weekends or even consider each other close friends outside of work, but that doesn’t affect the bond you share between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
“When things at work get difficult, it’s good to have a close colleague by your side,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness at Gleneagles Medical Centre. “Many people find it comforting to have someone they can trust, much like their spouse, in the office. When you need company for lunch or a listening ear when you feel like griping about the boss, you know that your work wife will be there for you. You do not have to fear being rejected. Knowing that he or she will watch your back also makes you feel safer at work and when you are away from work. And this person feels the same way about you.”
How a work wife can help your career
We all need a work wife, and there are a number of ways that having one can benefit our career. For one, having her support and encouragement is highly motivating. When we know we have a “cheerleader” who’s rooting for us, we’re more likely to perform just that little bit better – because she makes us believe that we’re capable of it. Second, she can help us manage stress at work. After all, with her as a confidante and sounding board, there’s less chance of us bringing our office angst home to our legal spouses and families.
Because she understands all the stuff we have to go through on a daily basis for our job, a work wife is probably one of the best people to give us career advice, too. Carla*, a 34-year-old finance executive says that her work wife Linda* gave her tips to help her get ahead in a very competitive company. “Linda had been working at the company for years and was senior to me, but we were pretty close because we sat near each other and often lunched together. When a new position opened up in her department, she recommended me for it and basically told me what I had to do to get it. I couldn’t have received that kind of advice from anyone else. Linda really wanted me to succeed because she knew I was the best person for the job. Once I started my new role, she guided me like a mentor but also listened to my frustrations and encouraged me.”
A work wife also helps us with tasks when we can’t do them ourselves. After a devastating breakup, marketing executive Tricia* said that she could barely get out of bed to go to the office, let alone function behind a computer. That’s when her work wife Lydia* stepped in. “For three weeks, she helped me edit the briefs and proposals I was working on because I was too emotionally drained to do it myself,” the 28-year-old shares. “She prepared my presentation notes for me, sent me uplifting emails, and made sure I didn’t get into trouble with the boss when I arrived at work late. Without her, I don’t know how I would’ve survived those three weeks.”
Two years later, after accepting a better position at a bigger company, Tricia seized the opportunity to help her work wife. “Once I settled in, I recommended Lydia for a position on my team,” she explains. “She helped me through all those difficult moments and in a way, aided my career success. So it was only natural that I do the same for her.”
The risks of having a work wife
As with any close relationship, there’s always the possibility of getting hurt, which is why Dr Lim advises you to be careful about what you divulge to your work wife. “It’s great to have people at work that you get along with and trust, but you should remember to always maintain a professional relationship with them.” This means not sharing confidential information with them, and being careful about what you say to them with regards to your job, your co-workers and your bosses. After all, you can’t tell for sure that your work wife won’t use what she knows to further her career ambitions at the expense of yours, and you don’t want to jeopardise your job or harm your professional reputation. It’s okay to trust your work wife, but only up to a point. “At the end of the day, it’s every employee for himself or herself,” says Dr Lim. “So while you might be very close and share a lot with your work wife, there are some lines that you shouldn’t cross, no matter what.”