Can Working With Your Spouse Work?

Posted: August 27, 2010

Conventional wisdom regards working with your spouse in the same organisation as a bad idea. Being together 24*7 – too close for comfort?

By Melanie Lobo

Some sectors like the IT industry, media, advertising, medicine and teaching actually encourage ‘coworking’ (spouses in the same organisation), although most companies do not allow couples to work in the same team or have a boss-subordinate relationship.

Advantages of working with your spouse

The Indian context may have its own peculiarities. For example, Lopamudra Roy, Regional MR Manager for a reputed MNC, Mumbai says one of the biggest advantages of working with her husband is that they get to spend more quality time. Lopa joined the firm a month ago, while her husband, now a Regional Brand Manager has been working there for over six years. One advantage of her move has been that she and her husband can travel to work together. Commute times in Mumbai being extremely high, this comes as a relief. It’s also become easier to find a place to stay within easy reach of office for both of them! (Besides, couples working together in the same firm also save on transport costs as they use one vehicle).

Apart from practical issues like transport, couples working together in the same company also find it easy to discuss their experiences and problems with someone who truly understands. This can be especially important for women, who often find that their career and problems at work are not given as much importance. A study by Cornell University researchers called Two Careers, One Employer: Couples Working for the Same Corporation (PDF) found that “…one in two coworking men and four in 10 coworking women report that neither partner’s career takes priority, whereas only one in five non-coworking men and women say this is the case…Thus, the coworking strategy appears especially considerate of women’s careers.”

…one in two coworking men and four in 10 coworking women report that neither partner’s career takes priority, whereas only one in five non-coworking men and women say this is the case…Thus, the coworking strategy appears especially considerate of women’s careers

Challenges of working with your spouse

However, with the advantage of such understanding also creeps in the problem of where to draw the line. Do misunderstandings at work spill over at home? Dipali Ekbote, Business Development Manager at a leading IT company in Pune, worked in the same organization as her husband for over five years. She states that the two of them decided “to never carry work home”.  She adds, “At home, we ensured our dinner time conversations were about the kids and the family, and not about our work”. They also never let personal problems interfere with their work. “In fact”, she says,”most of the new recruits at work did not even know that we were married! I had my own set of colleagues and so did he.” 

There are other disadvantages too such as dealing with resentment if one partner gets a promotion or increment while the other does not. Whether or not a couple can handle these depends on how mature both are, and should be looked at carefully before taking the decision to work together. Shivani Kaul, Senior Software Engineer at a well known IT company in Pune, who met her husband (a Technical Project Manager) at work 5 years ago, however, does not find it an issue. According to her, professional competitiveness does not come into the picture at all as they are both mature enough to handle this aspect of working in the same organisation. Given the Indian social context though, where the husband is still seen as the ‘main’ breadwinner and ‘head of the family’, not every fragile male ego can deal with a more successful female spouse at the same firm.

Given the Indian social context though, where the husband is still seen as the ‘main’ breadwinner and ‘head of the family’, not every fragile male ego can deal with a more successful female spouse at the same firm.

Financially, Shivani and her husband feel that it is not a very good idea to work in the same organization as both could lose their jobs if the company was to be in trouble. However, at the moment, the pros outweigh the cons and so they intend to keep working together. Another practical challenge is that of planning long holidays together – especially if spouses work on the same or related team.

Points to keep in mind for couples working together

Keep your personal life to yourselves. Every marriage has its problems. Keep them at home. No one at office wants to know about them; besides, you end up looking unprofessional and silly if you fight at work.

Have your own set of friends. Just because you work together, does not mean that you have to spend every tea break/lunch break together. Mingle with other people. This also prevents colleagues from treating you as a ‘unit.’

And finally, don’t obsess over work. While your spouse may help you with understanding or resolving issues at work, your relationship will not grow if you keep discussing work all the time.

Make sure work is only one of the many interests you continue to enjoy together.

Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now

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