Love at work: what work wives and husbands mean for business

Being close with colleagues is a huge strength for teams, but when it comes to ‘work wives’ or ‘work husbands,’ is there such thing as too much love at work?

The term work marriages, i.e. platonic relationships between colleagues working together closely, was coined in 1987, but efforts to create a sense of belonging at work, compounded by the shared experience of coronavirus, means employees are arguably more connected now than ever before.

This is certainly the case for Katy Stanley, chief operating officer at HR consultancy PTHR.

Speaking to HR magazine, Stanley said: "There's a lot of love on our team at PTHR; and one aspect that works well for us is having a rotational 'Business Partner'. 

“I spend one-on-one quality time with my partner each week; sharing jokes and the trials and tribulations of work. 

“It's been the best way to forge friendships in a remote based working world."

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HR's stance on office romance

However Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, advised on HR’s duty of care when it comes to workplace relationships: “If there is risk to the business or if judgement is likely to be impaired then it is advisable that there is a self-disclosure by all parties to safeguard against allegations of nepotism or collusion that could be harmful to the individuals themselves or to the business.”

Yet Ruth Cornish, founder HR consultancy Amelore, said it's a question of balance.

“Relationships at work has always been a hot topic. Especially for HR who often get dragged into things if it goes wrong. 

“Even when it goes right it can cause problems with others in the workforce with accusations of favouritism or being ignored.”

Though HR can take steps if relationships turn sour, Cornish warned against meddling.

She added: “HR should never get personally involved, give advice or pass judgment on what their employees do in their personal life. This includes staff having affairs.

“Having a work spouse in addition to one at home can be very energising and motivational. Like anything it is finding the balance between always being professional but having fun too."