I started hearing people mentioning company Christmas/holiday parties recently (I know…) One person remarked at the awkwardness of such events for single people.
Which actually got me thinking about why people bring their “home” partners to company parties, since that seems to end up being stilted and awkward. Like a grownup version of moms who are friends telling their kids, who are strangers, to “play nice” while the moms socialize.
Then I got thinking about at-home partners vs. at-work partners. Ahh yes, the work husband/wife.
The work partner is not exclusive to tech, but I’ve never worked at a tech company where I didn’t have one. They’ve been essential to maintaining sanity and satisfaction. Tech may be full of introverts, but not being a social butterfly is a very different thing than being in the equivalent of solitary confinement.
Having a work partner means there’s always someone who already knows about The Thing. The Thing could be a fraught interpersonal office relationship, or big project, or just day-to-day goings-on.
This means that you don’t have to provide an hour of background info, a cast of players, and other details before recounting an anecdote about The Thing that happened today. Often, when you go home, you do.
If you’re in the habit of talking extensively about work with your home partner, perhaps they are already in the loop. But just as often, by the time you get around to telling the anecdote, the conversation has completely gone off the rails with questions about minutiae, or your partner just lost interest half an hour ago.
It’s like how explaining a technical joke loses all lulz when elaboration or translation is required. It’s also possible you and your home partner have entirely different careers or backgrounds, and so full understanding of the other’s work life is limited, no matter how much you discuss.
Having a work partner means that when the most hilarious/infuriating/OMG thing ever happens at the office, you have someone to tell right away who will absolutely get it. That person can then join in the drama, support your outrage, or even add further details.
If you message your home partner when something happens, who knows if they will even see it for hours? And by that point, all the emphasis will have drained away. Or the text may strip all the urgency, outrage, or hilarity from the situation.
A work partner will also understand the nuances of situations and communication. If you come storming into their office ranting and raving, as soon as they know who or what it’s about, they’ll know if this is a one-off situation, a serious career issue, or just dealing with some idiot who really pushes your buttons.
They’ll know if they should nod and listen, laugh, take you for coffee, or help start crafting a complaint to HR. If you did the same thing with your partner at home, there’s a good chance they would automatically think it’s something very serious and might inadvertently wind you up more, when that may not be the best course of action.
However, if something does happen at work that is really or potentially bad, a work partner can be a witness, someone to discuss possible courses of action with, or someone to give you a clearer perspective on whether what happened might have been a misunderstanding, harassment, or other issue.
Especially in “unbalanced” environments – be it team demographics, power distribution, etc. – having someone potentially on your side, or keeping their eyes open, can be a downright necessity.
In tech, especially startups, long hours are not uncommon. If you’re going to have to burn the midnight oil, it helps to have friends there, too. You can keep each other sane, make sure everyone eats and doesn’t overdose on caffeine, force each other to take breaks, and help talk someone down and work through seemingly intractable problems.
Unless your home partner also works at the startup (which is usually a bad idea), they can’t really help much with this. Yes, it sucks that you’re not home with them, chilling with Netflix, but your work partner(s) can help keep you sane so that you at least resemble a reasonable human when you do get home.
Home partners and work partners can work together, too. Recently, friends were selling their house, and the potential buyer was… difficult. Instead of my friend carrying around that stress all day, his wife sent me a heads up email, and when he and I had lunch, we had burgers and pints (which are much more stress-busting than salad). I encouraged him to purge the rage-inducing ridiculousness of the situation.
As a result, he could be more focused and less distracted back at the office, and calmer upon arriving home in the evening, having not stewed over preposterous inspection claims all day long.
A work partner can be a great thing to have in less stressful situations, too. Sometimes you end up in a company or department where you like your job, and the people are nice, but they’re just not… your people. It can be very isolating, and you can feel like you’re playing a role, rather than being yourself.
Sure, the office is a place of business, but it’s filled with people, and people have personalities. You spend a lot of time together. Forty or more hours a week is a long time to not swear, quote Star Wars, or whatever your thing is.
With a work partner, enough of yourself can trickle out that you can enjoy your workday more, have inside jokes, and feel a bit more at home in your environment. It can make the difference between enjoying going into the office and seeking somewhere else because of culture and “fit.”
Management, HR, and others have responsibilities for companies’ conduct, well-being, and general culture. But for everything else, there’s the work partner.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or email@example.com.