This is why you may be secretly pining for your work colleagues

Are you feeling a little adrift as a result of working from home? It may be that you’re missing the presence of your colleagues – even the ones you don’t always get on with.

Let’s face it, office life is not without its niggles of irritation – or even outright conflicts. 

Whether it’s that person who insists on reheating cod in the microwave every lunch or your neighbour who can’t seem to focus without constantly jiggling their leg (and the desk you both share), co-working is rife with potential for minor upsets.

And yet it seems that we’re missing the physical presence of our colleagues more than we might imagine on lockdown.

A new study by marketing agency PR Pioneer finds that one in three of us miss our so-called “work spouse” – the colleague we’re closest to in the office – more than we do our actual partners under lockdown. 

In the study of 3,500 employees working from home in quarantine, a further 67% said they would be far more productive if they were in lockdown with their work colleagues rather than family or friends.

Full-time employees spend an average of 40 hours a week in the workplace, so it’s perhaps not surprising that we start to form deep attachments with those around us – even those whose habits tend to grate.

Research has shown that strong work relationships impact everything from happiness to creativity and a reduced risk of burnout. 

“Work relationships are incredibly important to employee wellbeing,” says corporate wellness expert Alan Kohll, writing in Forbes. “It’s about more than just ‘getting along’ with a co-worker. As humans, we crave contact and connection with other people.”

A 2015 study by Nebraska-based researchers Chad McBride and Karla Mason Bergen defined the “work spouse” relationship as a “special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterised by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect”.

The work spouse relationships that the professors observed were typically more intense than other friendships in the office, and held a similar quality to marriage save for the romantic element. Work spouses tended to share a sense of humour, underpinned by high levels of trust and support. 

People also reported feeling happier and getting more out of work as a result of their relationship with their work wife and/or work husband.

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that we’re all feeling a tad bereft without the presence of such a central figure in our lives (daily Zoom catch-ups with the entire team just aren’t the same).

Even if you don’t have a work spouse, however, it’s likely that you’re missing those little, incidental interactions that punctuate your daily office routine.

Research shows that even simple interactions with people we don’t know all that well – a chat over coffee in the kitchen every morning, or catching up with the receptionist about her weekend plans – can spark quite profound feelings of belonging and happiness.

So, what does all this mean for our lockdown routines? First, stay in touch with your colleagues as much as possible, and ideally outside of work, too. Organise a virtual quiz night or a wine tasting evening, or go out of your way to place an extra one-to-one call with someone after you’ve finished up for the day. Include your work spouse, yes, but also the people you know less well (who knows, it could spark a brand new friendship).

Secondly, if you’re feeling a bit down or finding it hard to focus, it may well be that you’re missing the community aspect that working in an office brings; even the things that would normally annoy you.

And lastly, remember that this quarantine period won’t last forever. In fact, it’s already starting to ease (albeit slowly). So when you do finally make it back into your workplace again, you’ll come armed with a newfound appreciation for your desk buddies – irritating habits and all.

Images: Getty, Unsplash 

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