Picture this: You're late to a meeting, and your boss lays into you in front of the entire team. You look around for help, but no one's got your back. You sink into a chair, feeling totally alone and totally screwed. If only someone had confirmed your (legit) excuse or at least thrown you a sympathetic smile…if only you had a work wife.
A female on-the-job ride-or-die-a peer to grab lunch with, go to for advice, and rely on when you're swamped-can make your 9-to-5 a whole lot happier. She can also help you ace your job (and vice versa), says Chad McBride, PhD, a communication studies professor at Creighton University who researches work spouse–type bonds. "You become more invested in your company because you're invested in this relationship."
In other words, you're psyched to go to your gig because it means being with a pal. "And when you enjoy going to work and are less stressed, you end up doing better work," says Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of female career-development site Career Contessa. "This could then turn into your boss recognizing your enthusiasm and giving you more cool opportunities." (A promo could be around the corner, thanks in part to your profesh friend!)
To get yourself a work wife, find a gal around your same level and with whom you've had casual, pleasant convos. Feel out her potential by asking for small favors that benefit you both: "Want to brainstorm over lunch before tomorrow’s presentation?" If all goes well, try asking for a bigger solid, like covering your shift (and, duh, offer to do the same for her). Then follow these tips to nurture that dynamic and rock the work-wife life.
1. Shout out each other's great ideas
Make a deal with your WW: If one of you has a killer plan and presents it in an all-staff huddle, the other will repeat it and give props, so the rest of the team acknowledges your idea, says McGoodwin. So if you pitch an itinerary for an upcoming event, your work wife can say, "Great call! That would go so well." (NBD, but some of the women who worked in President Obama's White House reportedly employed this strategy, calling it amplification.)
2. Don't ignore your other colleagues
Just because you have "your person" at work doesn't mean you two should be cliquey and avoid everyone else. If you know different people at the company or are on separate teams, flex your connections and make introductions so both of your networking circles grow, says McGoodwin. You can use this script: "I'd love you to meet [WW’s name]. She is fantastic to work with and can help you with your current project." Not only will you get major cred if your girl kills it on the job, but you can make her look good too. The more people you meet within your industry, the more likely both of you are to get great new opportunities.
3. Vent, listen, repeat
When your boss is frustrating as hell and you want to talk it out with your work wife, call on her to go chat outside the office, says Sherry Sims, founder and CEO of the Black Career Women's Network. Or if you notice she is on the verge of a freak-out, take her to a faraway bathroom or down the street so she can let it out. If you're in an open work space, you can use the line "Want to go for coffee?" Or if you want to be all 007 about it, come up with some code words or phrases that you can say to each other when the proverbial shit hits the fan. Maybe that means texting her four exploding-head emoji during your shift so you'll both know there's major drama to discuss.
Venting about your job with someone you work with can actually allow you to go home and not dwell on the problem. That means you're less likely to spend precious free moments with your lover, roommate, or family bitching about work, says McBride.
4. Cover for her, but don't cover up
Even though you're on your work wife's side, you don't want to risk your own job by, say, making up bogus excuses if she's playing hooky one day. If she does have an actual issue (like having to fill a painful cavity or pick up her little sister from softball practice), offer to cover for her until she gets back and "be another set of eyes seeing what's going on," says McBride. Whether that means taking notes at meetings or sending her an emergency update, you'll be able to fill her in on everything later. (And she'll do the same for you next time.)
TFW I Met My WW
- "We both worked on a political campaign a few years ago, and now I'm not sure either of us would take a job where the other person wasn't involved. She's the best thing that's happened to my career!"-Remy, 27, Chicago
- "I started working with her on a project. We brainstormed, reciprocated quick favors, and sent work back and forth for feedback. Now, when one of us is out for more than a day or two, we feel it!"-Lia, 36, Charlottesville, VA
- "My work wife and I were friendly on the job, and she approached me about forming a company together. That's when we clicked. We'd spend weekends holed up in her apartment working on it."-Ali, 27, New York City
Go From Work Wife to Real Life
Think your WW has IRL BFF potential? The transition can be done, but take it slow. Start by suggesting an after-work hang: "Wanna get mani-pedis?" suggests Lauren McGoodwin. If that's a hit-and you talk about non-job stuff-try a weekend activity: "I'm going to yoga on Saturday. Want to join and then get brunch?" What's up, new friendship?!
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