Why compartmentalization is overrated
It’s 10:30 a.m., and we haven’t quite settled into the workday yet. Or it’s fifteen minutes found between meetings, or the 4 p.m. slump before the caffeine and trail mix have kicked in. Our employees are within earshot, and they’re probably rolling their eyes and/or Slacking each other about us.
There are times–so many of them–when sitting across from each other at our couple’s desk, we start breaking down what we saw on someone’s Instagram story. Other times we’re talking about this pair of shoes one of us wants to buy or dissecting a disconcerting text we received on our commute into the office.
But you know what? Making room for this sort of sharing is valuable. Oh, hell, we’ll go ahead and say imperative. We can do what we do successfully because we can flow seamlessly from talking about contracts, timelines, and job applicants to Korean sheet masks, health concerns, and C-list celebrities.
Why we don’t believe in leaving work at work and our personal lives at home
The concept of leaving personal stuff at home might sound appealing in theory, but in practice, this means not bringing our whole selves to work. Frankly, our work relies on us being 100% present–personal drama and all. And let’s also be honest about this world we’re living in: A clear personal-professional delineation is almost impossible for anyone in an era when we’re Facebook friends with our colleagues and respond to meeting notes from our laptops while watching Scandal.
But there is good news about this decompartmentalization. Research suggests workplace friendships are indeed good for business–a boon for engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. According to a 2014 survey of 716 paycheck-earning Americans, 71% of the people with friends on the job said they loved the companies they worked for, but only 24% of those without in-office pals had the same affection for theirs.
The benefits of a work friendship
And it’s not just that people enjoy working with a buddy, either. It’s that when they do, their quality of work is better. “Those who [have a best friend at work] are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher-quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job,” write the authors of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, a New York Times bestseller drawn from Gallup studies that span 150 countries.
Unsurprisingly, it’s women, predominantly, who own this realm: One study found that 63% of office friendships are female-female. (Outside the office, men also have fewer close friends than women do.)
There are many benefits to blurring the personal and professional. Yes, it’s handy in an everyday way–because discussing employee reviews while running errands together is just straight-up efficient–but the real win has been not having to bury the baggage of our non-office lives. We voice the things that are important to know, as friends and business partners, so that when one of us breaks down in tears at the slightest sign of disagreement about marketing strategy, we know that it’s not actually about marketing strategy. It’s about the fact that Erica is dealing with a sick pet bunny or that Claire is suffering from her umpteenth migraine of the month.
During the better part of the decade that we’ve been doing this together, there’s been family drama, love life turmoil, and, hardest of all, death–none of which we’ve had to leave entirely outside our 10-to-6. There’s been barely concealed crying at the office and pauses in productivity by one of us saying, “Can we take a quick walk?” We’ve taken turns being the one to say “Just go!” when a parent has called in the middle of the day with a significant update, or if there’s a chance to squeeze in a hospital visit between meetings.
On a daily basis, we both make ourselves available, just being there when the other needs to talk–to share a memory or to get upset or to express a wave of feeling that’s come on. We allow each other to be real, fully formed, multifaceted humans.
That doesn’t mean that the balance between the business and the bond always feels right–or that it’s something we don’t have to work at consciously. But when we put in the work to make our Monday-through-Friday not just about work, we find that we’re more real with each other in our professional relationship, too. And that’s good for business.
This article is adapted from Work Wife by Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur. It is reprinted with permission from Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.