Research on work spouse relationships in Kenyan organisations released

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Leading human resource and recruitment firm Corporate Staffing Services today released an in-depth research on the prevalent of work spouse relationships in Kenyan organizations.

The report titled Inside the World of Work Spouses in Kenyan Organizations, is based on a research conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 among 2,550 employees.

The company defined a work spouse as a colleague of the opposite gender with whom you have a strong friendship with and who meets your emotional needs in the workplace. They offer a close connection, support and advice on both work and personal issues. The relationship is ideally platonic.

The report shows that over 64% of the respondents are currently in or have been in a work spouse relationship with a colleague. This comes just four days before valentine Day, the universally recognized day for celebrating lovers.

Corporate staffing also carried out the study on 150 human resource professionals in a bid to find out the effect of work spouse relationship on work productivity.

The research further shows that 52% of work spouse relationships tend to last between 1-4 years with only 10% being able to surpass that bracket. Those in work spouse relationships below one-year point to about 38%. This data is symmetrical to HR findings around how long people stay at jobs nowadays, which is between 1-4 years.

In the structure of work spouse relationships, 90 % of the respondents said that they mostly comprise of people in the same administration level in the organizational hierarchy i.e. a colleague either in the same department or in another department. Only a paltry 8% of respondents engaged in work spouse relationships with their subordinate or supervisor.

While presenting the findings to the media at the Laico Regency Hotel, Corporate Staffing Services Managing Partner, Perminus Wainaina noted that work spouses make employees feel safe and supported because they have someone to bounce their ideas off of without feeling shy. They also help them get more work done faster because they work more seamless rather than if either of them had to work with someone less in synch with them.

However, on the flip side, work spouse relationships harm work productivity. They can lead to hurt feelings, divisiveness, tarnished reputations, and even attrition if employees feel they are in an unhealthy work environment. Just like in a real relationship, fallouts can be very messy.

In dissecting what the work spouses talked about and at what time, 59% of the respondents said they keep their interaction with the working spouse confined to the office, while 41% communicate even outside work on weeknights and weekends.

60 % of what work spouses discuss revolve around the workplace. They can take many forms such as colleagues, work problems, current happenings and ongoing projects. Other topics such as religious issues and business ideas come second at 12% while home issues, current issues like politics follow suit at 10% each while recreational activities take up 8%.

The survey also brought to light that 52% of the employees have kept their work spouse as a secret from their real spouses. However, about 48 % of the employees have told their real spouses of their work spouse relationships.

In understanding the influence of work spouse relationships on the individuals, the survey pointed that 67% of the respondents have had their work spouse influence their career decisions. Only 34% of the respondents have never been influenced by their work spouse to make a career decision.

In the case where the work spouse leaves, 79% would still keep in touch with them. 14% would seek to stop the relationship and cease all personal interactions. Also, 5% of the respondents pointed out that they have left a job when their work-spouse relationship turned sour. 95 % of them would never leave their work if their work spouse relationship ended.

As we approach Valentine’s Day, the study aimed at finding how work spouses would celebrate their partners. 63% would only wish their work spouses a happy Valentine’s Day. 15 % of the respondents will gift their work spouses on Valentine’s Day while 22% said they are likely to do nothing for their work spouses.

“From the research, it is clear that work spouse relationships have a big effect on productivity and output, something that the HR professionals concurred with. About 77% of the professionals said they are against work spouse relationships,” said Mr Wainaina.

Most organizations (51%) said they do not have any policies that provide direction on workplace relationships, something that Mr Wainaina challenged organizations to adopt to better help employees to manage them.

“Bad experiences when work spouse relationships spiral out of control are the reasons why many firms opt for Human Resource policies. If and when a policy is in place, then the HR has a guideline on how to deal with or even have an opportunity to discuss with the “couple“ what happens if the relationship ends or is facing challenges,’Mr Wainaina said.

In helping to tackle work spouse relationship management, the report suggests that organizations should operate from the point that Relationships are a basic social human need. Whether in our private or work lives, there is a natural urge to meet and have pleasant and trusting connections.

Work spouse relationships have proved to help employees cope in a constantly changing environment. However, in managing work spouse relationships, there are quite a few prominent HR risks that can complicate office dynamics, including perceived favouritism, conflicts of interest, outright violations of company policy, and, especially in the modern workplace, the potential for workplace sexual harassment.

Those in work spouse relationships should exercise emotional intelligence, self-discipline and be mindful to keep boundaries of what they discuss with their work spouse and the times they discuss. Such boundaries help make the relationship to be steadily grounded on professionalism.

As for organizations, the report says that it would be futile for any organization to downplay the existence of work spouse relationships and their influence in decisions making.

“Organizations need to embrace the work spouse phenomena and include training on emotional intelligence, communication skills, and in addition to establishing (and regularly updating) their HR policies of acceptable behavior”, Mr Wainaina concludes.

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