Best friends who work together make bank together.
Mazur and Cerulo have been close friends 17 years, nine of them as business partners at Of a Kind, a retail site that introduces new designers by sharing their stories and selling their goods. After five years of steady growth, Mazur and Cerulo sold the site to Bed Bath & Beyond, but they continue to run the brand.
While building their business, the co-founders noticed a trend among the working women they knew: Many of their successful peers had paired up to get the job done, whether it was pooling their talents to launch a startup, or developing informal work partnerships in corporate offices.
These “work wife” arrangements work so well for a big reason, they say. Having someone to support you leads to more productivity and a better, more encouraging work environment overall, especially in startups and companies where long hours and around-the-clock commitment to the job are expected.
“A work marriage is about more than just business — it’s about being there for the whole person,” Cerulo told HuffPost. ”Not only do you have someone’s back when it comes to a big presentation or a tense negotiation, but you also step up for them when they need support more broadly ― and they do the same for you.”
At the core of a strong co-working relationship, “there’s love,” Cerulo explained.
Research backs up this theory. According to Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, a New York Times best-seller drawn from Gallup studies that span 150 countries, those who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at relating to customers, produce higher-quality work, have greater well-being and are less likely to get injured on the job.
We see these work wife arrangements in high places: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in their “Saturday Night Live” days, Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey in the tech world with 23andMe. The book holds up Olympic volleyball champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings as a prime example of work wives at play.
While the two admit they’re not BFFs, the athletes’ closeness was cemented after a personal struggle: May-Treanor’s mom died during the second year of their work partnership, which led Walsh Jennings to see her in a new light.
“Going through something like that with someone that you love and care about really expedites a friendship. My heart broke for Misty every single day, and I just wanted to be there for her,” Walsh Jennings told the authors. “Misty never cries ― I probably saw her cry maybe five times in our entire career together.”
As that example shows, work spouses put a premium on emotional intimacy on the job. And in a corporate setting, it’s reassuring to know there’s someone in your office who knows the real “you,” not just the person you project at work. If you’re going through a personal problem ― or cry in the office ― you automatically have someone in your corner.
In a startup setting, this kind of work wife relationship is even more beneficial, Mazur said.
“A good friend makes a great co-founder because you’re willing to be vulnerable and transparent with that person, and that leads to much stronger collaboration and a better ability to navigate the dramatic ups and downs of starting a business together,” she told HuffPost.
It’s worth noting that, while work marriages are great to cultivate for your own well-being, in a corporate setting, your employers may be a little hesitant to recognize pair productivity. Most industries tend to focus on the individual when it comes time to give raises or promotions, said Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources expert and the host of the podcast “Let’s Fix Work.”
“It’s really up to the work-unit ― work-wives or partners ― to be brave, raise their hands, and recognize the other partner as a collaborator and co-equal,” Ruettimann told HuffPost. “While employers don’t necessarily recognize the power of a unit, most employers who want to retain talent will recognize accomplishments and results.”
In other words, the onus is on you and your work BFF to shout when you nailed a Q1 project as a team ― don’t just let one person get the credit. (That sounds like grounds for a work-wife divorce to us.)
Ultimately, Ruettimann, who’s unaffiliated with the book, thinks “the power of a work spouse is the power of having someone in the office who has your back and looks out for you as a human being when your employer simply sees you as a line item on a budget.”
Not every friendship has what it takes to withstand a working relationship. You need to have a work ethic similar to your pal, as well as compatible standards in life.
“Your standards don’t have to be about the same thing,” Mazur explained. “Erica is a grammar nut, and I’m really picky about visual things ― but because we both respect one another and feel very accountable to one another’s high standards, we rise to meet each other.”
Although the title of the book is gendered, the authors’ message is not. This same work-spouse arrangement can work for men, too.
“We’re not suggesting that the office become a full-on social den or therapy session. There should be boundaries, of course,” Mazur said. “But things happening in your personal life have implications for your professional life. Whether it’s an illness, a family issue, or even something positive like an upcoming wedding, there are things that can fundamentally shift your attitude, your ability to focus, or your levels of anxiety.”
When you have a work spouse or office friends in general, you can relax a little, knowing that these folks will interpret your reactions and behavior through a more holistic and human lens.
“All of which is all to say that these partnerships aren’t just good for the people working together, they’re good for the organizations they work for, too,” Cerulo said.