Sunday, March 25, 2018

I Married My Coworker—literally! Now what? Making workplace marriages healthy

Our current cultural moment has sparked some important conversations about the connection between romance, sex, and power dynamics in social relationships. These issues perhaps nowhere more salient than in the workplace, especially for spouses who work in the same office, location, or industry. While the gender dynamics in a workplace can be difficult to navigate, even for the most conscientious among us, that doesn’t mean we should always turn away from romance that’s sparked by a workplace connection. It just means that we have to be cautious about the meaning and consequences of the spark.

Avoiding the “Carryover Effect” at Work…

One of the first dynamics that spouses who work together should attend to is how their marriage carries over into the workplace—and vice versa. Be thoughtful about how your interactions at home may be impacting your interactions at work. Are you spending time at work brooding over an argument from the night before? Or are you spending time at work planning out-of-work activities with your spouse? Of course, this “carryover effect” happens in all relationships, but it’s particularly difficult to avoid when you can re-engage your spouse in a dispute about the trash every time you see him.

…and at Home

Many workplaces have HR regulations that try to avoid these negative effects on the workplace, but it’s just as important to avoid them at home. In the same way you don’t want to spend your workday angry about a dismissive remark from your wife, you don’t want to come home upset about a meeting that she allowed to run too long. Because there’s no HR department to help with this type of carryover, it’s vital that married spouses find ways and develop boundaries to cope with workplace stressors. Try a 30-minute time limit when you get home from work to vent about your day, and strictly prohibit work-talk afterwards. And be intentional about using workplace conflict guidelines to your advantage: let your HR departments/regulations help you sort through workplace issues—that’s what they’re for, after all. And don’t develop the habit of relying on a second-round of argument once you get home.

Healthy Workplaces

This latter example of using workplace conflict resolution guidelines also helps to illustrate the effects that spousal arrangements can have on your colleagues and on the workplace in general. Indeed, these considerations are a primary reason why many workplaces explicitly prohibit employee-employee relationships or relationships between superiors and subordinates. Even though healthy relationships can internally weather home-versus-work conflicts, your coworkers may not be so sanguine. They often suspect spouses of receiving special treatment from their spousal superiors—whether concretely in the form of raises, or simply in terms of continuing a workplace discussion at home where coworkers cannot offer their opinion.

For these reasons, it’s essential that spousal coworkers, especially in superior-subordinate roles, go by the book at work. Avoid conversations about your relationship, don’t use pet names that are common at home, and try not to have—let alone mention!—conversations you might’ve had at dinner in which a workplace decision got made. And be proactive: be visible about using professional guidelines at work. If you have to make a decision about your husband’s raise or promotion, make sure you rely on your own colleagues to help make the decision. Not only does it help you maintain objectivity, but other colleagues will know (and make it known) that you didn’t play favorites.

Criticism and Therapy are Your Friends

Just as it’s important to be able to listen to criticism from your partner, involving your coworkers in your partnership means you’re going to have to be able to take criticism from them, too. So, don’t be like Clark and Martha on The Americans, forced to hide the relationship from everyone. Be open with your staff about you and your spouse’s relationship, and let them know that you understand perceptions about spouses in the workplace and that you’re going to take proactive measures to address those perceptions. And if your coworkers feel shut out or like they’re not on equal footing with spouses, you have to be open to hearing that—and to letting them know that you want to hear it.

Workplace spousal arrangements are difficult, but for couples who can make it work, they can be among the most fulfilling relationships there are. But given how unorthodox the conflicts and stress management can be, a lot of couples need a little help from a therapeutic friend to get off on the right foot. So, as in other workplace issues, be proactive here, too: seek out a relationship therapist who may also specialize in workplace conflicts as early as you can. This can help you avoid developing bad habits that not only have ramifications for you and your partner, but for everyone you work with.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Stop Putting Yourself Last! How Creating Space Shows Self-Worth

If there is one thing I know I’m good at doing, it’s creating space for myself! One day, during a water cooler break, my colleague Dr. KS exclaims, “I talked about you in a session today!”

“Ooooh? Really?” I asked for more information, a little apprehensive and curious at the same time.

Dr. KS replies, “Your cupboard in the kitchen!”

Wait...what? Of all things that could be said about me, I never thought my fame would come from a shelf in an office kitchen!

The Cupboard in the Kitchen

Stop Putting Yourself Last! How Creating Space Shows Self-Worth‘My cupboard in the kitchen’ is one shelf where I keep kitchen items like tea, honey, and snacks. Since I spend a good bit of time at my office, I like to feel at home, or at least “homey,” while I’m there. Besides, having snack and regular eating keeps me from getting hangry and being quite unbearable to be around, for coworkers and clients. Having snack items also prevents me from unhealthy eating habits like eating dinner too fast because my brain and stomach are starved! Forgot your snacks or lunch at home? No problem! My cupboard snacks have you covered. And trust me, a few colleagues have taken advantage of this!

“Why not keep them in your office?” you ask. My office is on the exact opposite side of the kitchen. Therefore, I must get up and walk to get my snack. Two benefits here. First, I’m getting daily steps. Second, I have to really think about whether it’s hunger or emotional eating that’s making me want a snack. (Yes, I have a strategy to most things in life.)

Making Yourself Space and Self-Worth

So, now that you have the details on one of my office neurose, Dr. KS went on to explain that she told her client about how I take care of my needs. She also said that she sees my creating space as honoring my own self-worth. Many people develop a sense that they are ‘in the way’ or ‘not worthy,’ especially at work, where it’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle. As a result, they may not provide for their own needs, or make their needs known to others. Creating space for myself shows I am able to state my needs and create that space needed for me to feel happy and secure—and in a case like this, it communicates to my coworkers that this personal space is important to me. Honestly, I never even saw it that way until she brought it up! (Thanks Dr. KS!) Space allows me to feel more comfortable and less anxious at work. And if I feel and know I’m taken care of then there is no reason to be anxious or go down that spiral of self-destructive thoughts and worry on being able to eat or go out
Stop Putting Yourself Last! How Creating Space Shows Self-Worth
and get lunch. I’ve got myself covered!

I thought about this more and realized that I create space in other areas, too! As a passenger on a long car ride or airplane travel, I tend to make a bag of possible needs, like a water, a book or activity, snacks, and even a few toiletries. When I stay in a new place, I also tend to create space by unpacking and putting items where I might need them or where they would be at home. In my own office environment, I invite clients to feel comfortable and I model this for them. As most of my clients know, if you need to eat while in session, then pull out that snack bar or lunch and eat while we talk. Clients will even take their shoes off and get comfy on the couch. This is all fine—and encouraged!—by me!

How do you create yourself space? What do you notice different about you when you take care of your needs? Would love to hear your own stories!