What Happens When Couples Work Together?

Unlike many years ago, it is commonplace for both partners in a relationship to have full-time jobs. But spouses working together? Many would argue that most couples need a break from each other no matter how much in love they are. Researchers (Halbesleban et al., 2011) investigated the benefits and consequences for these “work-linked” couples, specifically in regards to reported emotional exhaustion.


These authors predicted that because spouses who work together have a greater understanding of each other’s jobs and a greater ability to actually help each other at work, they should both experience higher levels of support from one another. However, at the same time, these couples may also experience more strain between work and family responsibilities (work/family conflict) because there isn’t a clear boundary between these two domains.

Indeed, in two samples (one American and one Brazilian) work-linked couples reported higher levels of support and lower levels of time-related conflict. However, these individuals also reported higher levels of behavior-related conflict (in the US) and strain-related conflict than those that were not linked. Together, it seems that work-linked couples can support each other better and feel that they manage their time better, but also have a harder time balancing work and family duties and negative emotions.


This research is unique because it highlights both the positive and negative aspects of working with a partner. In doing so, it offers recommendations for organizations managing their paired-up employees. For instance, one might encourage their employees to share their work experiences with their significant others and/or invite family members to employee events. We know from other research that being embedded in one’s job and community can reduce turnover, and more strongly integrating the family into the organization (while still managing the negative aspects listed previously) is one way of doing that.


Halbesleben, J. R. B., Wheeler, A. R., & Rossi, A. M. (2012). The costs and benefits of working with one’s spouse: A two-sample examination of spousal support, work-family conflict, and emotional exhaustion in work-linked relationships. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33, 597-615.