Long live the work wife. Just don't call her that.

It's unclear who coined the term "work wife," but if the concept had a spokesperson, it was probably Tina Fey and Amy Poehler circa 2015. At the time, their career highlights ( Mean Girls , Saturday Night Live 's Weekend Update, hosting the Golden Globes) were a thing; the "You Are My Amy's Tina" mugs were became a popular gift, Poehler joked: "We've worked together long enough that I feel like I have half of Tina. He added that they even have their own private language, like twin language. "We can talk about other people in front of them, but they don't really understand." "

Anyone who has caught a colleague's attention during a meeting and quietly passed on inside jokes can relate to the special alliance Poehler describes. Of course I know. I developed deep bonds with my roommates in my 20s who knew my coffee order, my pet peeves, and what to say when I needed a pep talk. A coworker even accompanied me to the doctor when I had a bad infection (gross, but I'm grateful). At the time (the 2010s) we were almost all expected to fuse work and identity, so work/life boundaries didn't exist and the platonic intimacy of a "work wife" was normal, even desirable. These friendships were forged over late night deadlines, trips to Chipotle, and mutual support and compassion, and are still a part of my life today.

But a lot has changed in the workplace since then. Today, the term "work wife" seems outdated and tacky, a relic of the hustle and bustle culture of the girl boss era. A 2023 Newsweek poll found that 45% of U.S. adults think it's inappropriate to have a work spouse, while only 21% think it's okay. “The lines between our personal and professional lives have become more pronounced, in part because of the profound blurring of lines during the pandemic, when we are all in each other’s presence,” said Julianna Pillemer, a professor at New York University Moving around the home.” The Stern School of Business studies relationships at work.

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Spousal-like working relationships also face new logistical hurdles: More frequent job hopping and the rise of remote work make it harder to connect with coworkers. Even if you're not one of the roughly 30% to 50% of employees with remote flexibility, many jobs have become so digital that in-person interactions are declining. A 2022 Gallup poll of more than 15 million workers showed that only one in five respondents reported having a best friend at work, a significant decrease from 2019. All signs point to one question: Are work wives a thing of the past?

We hope not. Even though our workplaces have begun to discourage intimacy, researchers are finding that they are more important than ever. In a Gallup poll, respondents who had a best friend at work were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, successful in their roles, and loyal to their employers. What's more, the correlation between work friendships and overall happiness is even stronger in 2022 than in 2019. While these relationships take time, effort, and healthy boundaries, it's clear that the pros far outweigh the cons.

Additionally, humans have a desire to develop trusting, impactful connections with the people they spend time with regularly, a desire that transcends changing cultural attitudes toward the workplace. "Work is the place where many people have the most opportunities to interact, so it's natural that you'll form close relationships that go beyond what you might expect from a typical, cordial work relationship," Pillemer says.

So, how do you reap the benefits of a work spouse in this new professional environment? You need to have a certain willingness to express yourself, says Mia Blume, a former Pinterest designer who now runs her own company that provides leadership development training to creatives. "Today, many meetings feel more formal and transactional, especially on Zoom or video conferencing," she explains. "If I want to talk to you, I have to schedule a meeting on your calendar for a specific time, or I have to interrupt you via Slack or whatever your messaging platform is. Both feel like an intrusion."

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To break this rigidity, Bloom is experimenting with ways to create a warmer, more joyful online environment. "We'll be offering virtual studio times where people can use [Zoom] if they want, DJ for each other, and just chat." If DJing for your co-workers feels too weird (understandable), she also encourages people to do it on walks One-on-one calls. Even if they're not together, there's a collective quality to doing the same thing at the same time - taking a walk. At the very least, it provides more room for serendipity and friendly banter, which in itself can enhance the mood. Small talk with co-workers doesn’t just make you feel good; Studies have found that it can also help you get promoted.

Trying to replicate the pre-pandemic work-spousal relationship may not work. Adrienne, 31, spent much of her 20s at a startup in New York, where she had a tight-knit group of colleagues. She attended their wedding, had dinner with them after get off work and exchanged messages of encouragement during difficult days. When she got a new job at the end of 2019, she knew she would miss them. But the pandemic made things much worse than she expected. "When the company went remote, I wasn't there long enough to form any meaningful friendships. And then it felt almost impossible to have a close relationship with anyone," she said.

Adrienne said she felt adrift emotionally and professionally for the next few months. But when her employer started bringing employees back to the office two days a week, she found her footing. "Since we've been in, it's been a lot easier to get to know people on a more personal level - just having coffee with them and looking around at them. I'm enjoying the job a lot more because of that," she said. “It’s had a huge impact on my daily life and overall health.”

Adrienne has been in the role for more than four years, and she now has a co-worker who might fit the mold of Poehler and Fey's work wife, but she would never call her that. "She called me her 'work wife' the other day and I kind of cringed," Adrienne said, adding that the term felt too gendered and cutesy for the current climate. Perhaps it’s the terminology that needs revisiting, rather than the need for companionship.

Don’t agree with all of their ideas in a meeting just because you feel the need to support them; just like everyone else, disagree or question them.

While a work-spouse relationship can be very positive, there are downsides. "On the one hand, we find that they can cause distractions at work," Pillemer said. They can also lead to uncertainty. "It's like, 'When we talk, am I talking to you as a coworker? Or am I talking to you as a friend? That's tricky.'" Additionally, coworkers who frequently complain about their work may label themselves dissatisfaction “infects” others (a phenomenon called “emotional contagion”).

Finally, close relationships with coworkers can sometimes arouse hostility or jealousy from others, especially when you become friends with people at different professional levels (what Pillemer calls "cross-identity friendships"). "If you're close to your boss, are people going to think there's favoritism? If you get promoted, is that the reason?" she said. "That's not to say you shouldn't have these relationships. They just need to be managed."

This might look like making an effort to spend time with other coworkers, establishing communication with your work spouse (go get coffee, don't just hang out at each other's desks), and educate yourself on how your relationship is developing, Pillemer says. For example, don't agree with all of their ideas in a meeting just because you feel the need to support them; just like everyone else, disagree or question them.

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Pillemer says your desire for work friendships also depends on your personality. Some people are "integrators" and like to blend their work and non-work identities; for example, these people will invite work and non-work friends to their birthday parties. Nonintegrators, on the other hand, prefer to keep these areas of life separate.

Amelia, 29, is one such “integrator.” At her last job, she was so close to a co-worker (let's call her Jordan) that when she was struggling with serious mental health issues, Jordan was the first person she called. she. Amelia helped Jordan get treatment and quietly explained the situation to her manager when Jordan needed some rest. "I never thought it was embarrassing or crossing a line," she said. "I'm just happy to be around her."

However, things got complicated later when Jordan was promoted and became Amelia's boss, getting the role that Amelia had been fighting for. However, Amelia didn't let it interfere with their relationship and began conducting interviews elsewhere. “I chose friendship over work,” she said. "I'm glad I did - we're still friends."

They still work together sometimes. At Amelia's new company, she hired Jordan, now a freelance consultant, to work on some projects. There's another benefit to having loyal work friends: They can be your biggest cheerleaders and even help advance your career. Maybe by 2024, you won't call them your "work wives," but having friends in your career corner almost always pays off.