When You Discover Your Spouse’s Annoying Work Persona

Say Something? Or Let It Slide? A Quarantine Guide

May 11, 2020
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  People who are able to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic are seeing their spouses’ work personalities in action, sometimes for the first time, The Information reports. And what they are discovering can be pretty jarring.

Maybe your loving respectful partner is a frequent interrupter. Maybe he or she is a heavy user of overused business jargon. Perhaps like this spouse you discover you’re married to a “let's circle back” guy.

Should you say something? Or let it go? After all, you’re stuck in a stay-at-home situation with this person. It could be a long pandemic.

Nicole M. Coomber, associate clinical professor of management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, has focused much of her research on the field of emotional intelligence, which involves having awareness of one’s own feelings and an understanding of the needs of others. That aptitude is more important than ever, Coomber told The Information, as people negotiate working in close proximity. Coomber is experiencing this firsthand: She lives with her husband, a labor employment attorney, and their four children in the Washington, D.C., area. While Comber’s family is quarantined with their au pair, she and her husband work together in a small home office. “From my perspective, a lot of the work and the home are bleeding together,” she said.

Couples and partners should figure out what level of information they want to share about their workdays, Coomber suggests, and avoid going beyond that. While it can be tempting to offer what seems like helpful advice, she cautions that it is tough for people living together to be objective. Oversharing also can get workers into trouble, since certain types of jobs are covered by laws that prevent employees from discussing information with spouses.

Just as a disagreeable coworker can bring down morale in a regular office environment, venting to a spouse or partner at home can cause them to experience the same feelings. Mental health experts have a name for the phenomenon: emotional contagion. “What happens is that you sort of infect others with whatever you are feeling,” Coomber said. While everyone is cooped up at home, the work experiences of spouses and partners can vary widely. Only some jobs are easy to do from home. People who have experienced minimal disruption said they are careful not to gloat about it.

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About the Expert(s)

Nicole M. Coomber

Nicole Coomber is on the faculty in the Management & Organization area at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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