The mental health benefits of having a 'work wife'

Two female friends at work. (Getty Images)
New research has revealed we confide in our colleagues more than our other halves. (Getty Images)

Whether you work from home or in the office, there's no getting around the fact that we spend a lot of time with our colleagues, both digitally and physically.

It makes sense, therefore, that we form close relationships with (some of) our colleagues. So close, in fact, that many of us adopt a 'work wife' (or husband) and opt to confide in them over our other halves.

New research has revealed a quarter of women are more likely to discuss relationships, holidays, and social plans with their workmates rather than with their partner.

The study, of 2,000 females, by OnePoll and commissioned by BlueIron, found career advice, parenting difficulties and mental health challenges are among the topics they open up about in the workplace.

Reasons colleagues have achieved top confidante status range from them offering impartial advice (36%), being around when you need to vent (35%) and giving different perspectives on problems (26%).

Nearly half of those polled (44%) consider work colleagues, both past and present, to be among their closest friends, and consequently, relationships at work help 42% of employed women get through their working day.

But what exactly leads us to form such close relationships with our colleagues?

"Working together every day, sharing goals, deadlines and work stresses will naturally lead to friendships developing, particularly with close teams," explains Alison Goolnik is an Integrative psychotherapist at Therapy Here.

This continuous interaction builds trust which leads you to become more open with your feelings and fosters more sharing, confiding and being supportive of each other.

"Talking to colleagues can feel a safe space to offload, a space away from home or other worries and as the sharing deepens, the closer the bonds at work become," Goolnik adds.

Two friends having fun at work. (Getty Images)
There are many mental health benefits of having a 'work wife'. (Getty Images)

Mental health benefits of having a 'work wife'

As well as helping us survive long days on the clock, there are actually many mental health benefits to having a significant other at work as well as at home, starting with the power of connection.

"Connecting with others makes you feel good, it is validating and so having a close colleague - a ‘work wife/husband’ - at work can make work more fun and enjoyable," Goolnik explains.

"This gives greater job satisfaction which in turn leads to improved performance and productivity and so is highly positive on your wellbeing (and your company’s profitability!)."

Having close relationships at work also gives a sense of belonging.

"The feeling of being part of the work community, being supported and accepted for who you are within the team can be very motivating and in turn can have a knock on impact on wellbeing," Goolnik adds.

Not only are work spouses good for a rant but they can help ease the trials and tribulations of every day life, which can often have a knock on impact on wellbeing.

"It’s long established within psychological research that strong relationships can act as a buffer against stress," explains Dr Jo Burrell is a clinical psychologist and co-founder of workplace wellbeing provider Ultimate Resilience.

"Positive psychology research has also shown that we experience a high number of positive emotions such as contentment, joy and amusement in the company of close friends and loved ones," she continues.

"These emotions stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which acts to calm stress symptoms."

Women laughing at work. (Getty Images)
Fostering good relationships at work can be good for our mental health. (Getty Images)

How to build positive relationships with colleagues

While previous research has revealed that two-thirds (65%) of Brits say they have a really good relationship with at least one colleague, and one in six (17%) claim to have a ‘strong relationship’ with just one other individual in their workplace, not everyone has been lucky enough to find their 'work spouse'.

But there are plenty of ways to foster positive relationships with your colleagues in the hope of finding a workplace significant other.

Engage in pro-social behaviours

If you’re looking to build stronger bonds with work colleagues, Dr Burrell suggests making sure you’re engaging in pro-social behaviours.

"These are voluntary acts aimed at benefitting another person – like showing kindness, interest or acceptance," she explains.

"We’re not necessarily talking grand gestures, here. Just making the person a cuppa or creating space for them to speak in a meeting is enough to generate feelings of warmth.

"Importantly, these prosocial acts also help to build trust, which is the cornerstone of a strong relationship," she adds.

Listen and ask

When you’re struggling to find someone to connect with at work, asking questions and being curious about your colleagues’ lives and experiences is a great way to find common ground.

"Research shows that our brain gives out a shot of the ‘love’ hormone, oxytocin, when we identify a shared interest or experience with another person," Dr Burrell explains.

"The hormone’s release is accompanied by feelings of affection, deepening the relationship bond."

Friendships: Read more

Watch: Advice for building new friendships as an adult