Treat Your Partner Nicely. He May Be Why You Get -- or Don't -- a Raise or Promotion

How's this for a shock?

A new study has found that your spouse's personality -- not yours -- influences your career success.

Now, I love my husband but he is absent-minded (maybe only with me) and sometimes helpless (he'll kill me when he reads this) and forget about details.  He once asked me how to turn on the oven (you press a button).

I realize that a lot of this is just men stuff -- you know, pretend you don't know how to do it so she'll do it, and I know we, at least I, am not very good at reinforcing when he does it right.  I can't stand the way he unloads the dishes from the dishwasher (usually in the wrong cabinet so I can never find them), or vacuum the family room (how can he keep missing that corner)?  And, I admit, I pick on him for it, so why should he want to help out?   At least he does his own laundry!

But the study found that as people spend more and more time in the workplace (and these days it feels like we live there), it’s natural for co-workers to develop close bonds — what’s often referred to as a “workplace spouse” or an “office wife.”
That never really happened to me, except when I worked for a newspaper in my 20s.  We were all just out of college and partied a lot together -- in fact, we didn't have a social life without each other.  So it seemed quite natural to feel like family.

But when it comes to pay raises, promotions and other measures of career success, it’s the husband or wife at home who may be exerting a bigger influence on workplace performance, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis, according to

“Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the study.

Although we marry “for better for worse, for richer for poorer,” he points out, this study is among the first to demonstrate that the personality traits of the spouse we choose may play a role in determining whether we wind up, indeed, richer or poorer.

I don't really agree with this.  Before we had a child, I was a workaholic.  I made a lot of money and I think my husband enjoyed it.  He hated what he did and so he liked not having to kill himself.  I can't say that his lack of motivation bothered me. I was out in the world, having a grand old time, traveling and meeting celebrities (okay, so it was only the Four Tops and the Spinners, and who even remembers them?).

But I loved what I did and I didn't mind the nights till 2 a.m. at the printer (yes, we actually used paper in those days) right before a huge press conference, or staying up all night to lift and lower the blinds in our office building in Chicago to spell out "IBM."

But once I had a child, that all changed.  In fact, my career ground to a halt.  And now, instead of basking in my financial success, he found that he was resentful that he was the one bringing home the bacon now.

We've kind of adjusted, and now I'm working again.

Researchers say a spouse’s personality influences many daily factors that sum up and accumulate across time to affect the many actions necessary to receive a promotion or a raise.  

Workers who scored highest on measures of occupational success in the study  tended to have a spouse with a personality that scored high for conscientiousness, and this was true whether or not both spouses worked and regardless of whether the working spouse was male or female, scientists  found.

But guess who does the best?  Those with spouses who are conscientious.

That's because the working spouse may come to rely on his or her partner to handle more of the day-to-day household chores, such as paying bills, buying groceries and raising children. Workers also may be likely to emulate some of the good habits of their conscientious spouses, bringing traits such as diligence and reliability to bear on their own workplace challenges.

Finally, having a spouse that keeps your personal life running smoothly may simply reduce stress and make it easier to maintain a productive work-life balance.

That's probably the main reason I had such a hard time getting and keeping a job when my son was little.  As good as he was about most things, my husband just couldn't handle the details.  I was terrified if I let him pick up our son after school, Phillip would still be standing there at breakfast.  

The study suggests that people with ambitious career goals may be better served to seek supportive partners with highly conscientious personalities.  I guess I goofed there.  But I like having someone in my life who doesn't freak out when the kitchen floor is still slick with grease where I dropped a chicken breast last night.  But I have learned one thing.   Just don't ever be late to put that chicken -- dirty or clean -- on the table.


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