Here’s How Your ‘Work Wife’ Is Actually Holding You Back

Women Coworkers

Jacob Lund / AdobeStock

AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
Do you have a coworker with whom you eat all your lunches, chit-chat at all of your happy hours and talk to about all of your work- and home-related stresses?
A host of research has suggested that the key to your success could be having a "work spouse." A work spouse is someone with whom you've a strong, platonic relationship. That bond at work, according to research, has the potential to do big things for your career. A study aptly titled "Work Spouses: Defining and Understanding a 'New' Relationship," published in the journal, Communication Studies, found that the characteristics of a work spouse often mirror that of an out-of-office spouse, including loyalty, support and trust, all of which can ultimately lead to increased happiness and success.
But Mallun Yen, the woman behind SaaStr and, recently warned her readers in Fortune that a "work wife" could end up doing more harm than good. Over the course of Yen's career, she's worked with countless smart and ambitious women with whom she marched against injustices side by side, swapped maternity clothes and made friends, she said. The one thing they didn't do: make business deals.
"I realized that despite the cultural moment female friendship is currently enjoying, the same strength, intensity and deep connections being celebrated was also setting up a false dichotomy between personal relationships and the transactionality of business," she wrote. "Women told me that when they asked a friend for business, they feared it would damage their personal relationships, took rejection personally, and became gun-shy about making another pitch. Even well-qualified women who had no qualms about asking (and were quite adept at it) were often met with avoidance, a brush-off or no reply at all."
The women with whom Yen spoke told her that they didn't anticipate business propositions from friends, and those propositions often left an unspoken tension that ultimately hurt their relationships. Some of the women even avoided anyone who might ask for business.
"Doing deals with your buddies is a time-honored way to build your book of business," Yen wrote. "But women tend to struggle when it comes to mixing money and friendship, cutting themselves off from one of the most effective tactics in the constant struggle to get ahead. So why is it that we’re so hesitant to do deals with our friends — the very people we know have our backs?"
Yen suggests that women can take the depth of their relationships — those emotions, closeness and personal bonds — and use that depth to leverage business success. Women who do this successfully typically seek out other women when they have business needs, recommend friends to friends (i.e. promoting each other as experts and resources) and play matchmaker by introducing their friends to relevant contacts in their networks when their friends have business ideas. They also recognize that in order to achieve business success with friends, there's a two-way street. They need to be just as proactive about asking as they are about listening. writer Logan Chierotti warned in an article, "Going into Business with a Friend: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," however, that starting a business with a friend shouldn't be a decision you take lightly.
"You will often spend more time with your business partner than you will with your family; choose this partner wisely," he wrote. "A good friend does not always equal a good business partner. When you work with a friend, your relationship will change. It's inevitable. But how it changes — for better or worse — is up to you."
He suggests avoiding business asks with friends who have big egos, are "talkers" and who may be overly passionate but don't have diligence or a carefully researched plan. He does, however, recommend looking to friends who are persistent and possess integrity and a strong work ethic.
"Women have a long way to go to achieve equality in corporate America," Yen continued. "Every effort we make to help each other, small or large, moves us forward. Start by reaching out to three women today and saying, 'Tell me two concrete things I can do to help you.' And if you are attempting to scaffold from a personal relationship to a business one, consider addressing the elephant in the room head-on and acknowledge the awkwardness that can arise when you begin to do so."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at by night.