Why scientists say the secret to your success could be having a 'work spouse'

A 'work spouse' could be the secret to your success

Do you have a go-to person in the office with whom you've formed a tight friendship? Then you most likely have a "work spouse." And that's a good thing. In fact, scientists encourage this because it leads to happiness and increased productivity.

A work spouse refers to a strong relationship between two platonic colleagues, usually of the opposite sex, which includes a bond similar to that of a married couple.

A recent study found that the characteristics of a good work spouse often mirror the qualities of a good out-of-office spouse, including loyalty, support and trust.

For the work spouse study, researchers analyzed 269 participants' open-ended responses to a survey and divvied them into five categories:

  1. Characteristics of a work spouse
  2. Conditions for the work-spouse relationship
  3. Characteristics of the work-spouse relationship
  4. Functions of work spouses
  5. Ways of managing the work-spouse relationship

Past studies have already confirmed that who you marry plays a heavy role in determining your success. Therefore, it makes sense that a colleague with these same traits would drastically improve your work life.

Based on their findings, the study's co-authors, Karla Bergen and Chad McBride, defined work spouse relationships as having "high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect."

McBride says what was really telling about this study is the one-word characterization used to describe a work-spouse relationship: trust.

"With that answer comes layers of meaning," McBride tells CNBC Make It. "Trust comes from a history. It makes the workplace safe and it insinuates that the role of a work spouse is a constant one."

Having a work spouse is particularly important in environments that are potentially toxic, says the researcher.

"One of the things that really helps us manage stress, burnout or toxicity is having someone talk to you, especially if it's a problematic workplace or a stressful workplace," says McBride.

"You can't just talk to anyone. And so having somebody that you can really trust and who also trusts you and to have that reciprocal relationship becomes invaluable."

The study found that work spouses also share similar traits with one another, such as humor. Survey respondents feel that their work spouse offers support and feel that their work has improved because of their office relationship.

Participants also reported having more fun at work and felt more loyal to their companies because of their office matrimony.

Why the secret to your success is who you marry

The study also found that having a work wife or husband does not negatively harm out-of-work marriages.

To the contrary, researchers report that those with work spouses enjoyed their home lives with their real spouses more because they had a better work-life balance.

According to the survey, only two people out of all 276 respondents have had a sexual relationship with their work spouse and 80 percent of the respondents noted not being sexually attracted to their work spouse.

The work spouse trend has truly taken off in recent years. According to a survey from digital media company Captivate, 75 percent of business professionals report having or previously having a work spouse, compared to 65 percent in 2010 and 32 percent in 2006.

However, using the term work spouse is still seen as somewhat taboo, says McBride. He tells CNBC Make It that 40 percent of people don't use the phrase. Those who do use the term, use it to deflect, he says. For example, "Oh, he's just my work spouse."

"Especially in the media, there's often a salacious undertone to it," says the researcher, but there shouldn't be.

"There's been research on other workplace friendships and how beneficial they are and how they improve employee morale and employee productivity," says McBride. "But this is a whole other level of that."

The researcher notes that in his many interviews, the participants stress the importance of their work spouse relationship and the need to nurture it.

"It's kind of like lightning in a bottle. You can't make this special relationship happen. But when it does, you need to protect it," says McBride.

"This isn't about a sexual tension relationship," he explains. "This is about maximizing productivity at work. It's about making work better. It's about having a good relationship with someone valuable that you trust."

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See also:

Why the secret to your success is who you choose as a best friend

Why the secret to your success is who you marry

Here's how helping your co-workers may be hurting your success