Do You Take This Man to Be Your Co-worker?

Office Romance: How the Couples Who Work Together Stay Together

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A salary cut was a small price to pay for love.

Rob Reilly took a demotion in 2002, leaving Hill Holiday, New York, where he was executive creative director, to join Crispin Porter & Bogusky as senior copywriter. After five years, he wanted to be closer to his girlfriend, Miami-based Crispin VP-Group Account Director Laura Bowles.
Love, Miami-style: Laura Bowles and Rob Reilly live happily ever after at Crispin
Love, Miami-style: Laura Bowles and Rob Reilly live happily ever after at Crispin

Today the couple are married and happily ensconced at Crispin, counting themselves among those in the marketing world who share the same address at home and the office.

Host of pitfalls
The situation presents a host of pitfalls and positives, among them the potential limitation of assignments to avoid working directly with a spouse. (Ms. Bowles swears not eating burgers was also a factor in her not being assigned to the prominent Burger King account, which her husband oversees.) The perk of being together is being able to do two things at once.

Gay and Lee Gaddis, the respective CEO and COO of T3-The Think Tank, for example, will often sit in their home hot tub discussing work. "We'll call it our 'board of directors meeting,'" Ms. Gaddis said with a giggle in her classic Texas twang.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2006 Workplace Romance Poll, about 70% of employers don't have policies regarding relationships in the workplace. Roughly 18% have written policies prohibiting relationships, and another 7% have verbal, informal policies against it.

However, the poll found that employees have over the last four years become "more open-minded about relationships between their colleagues." In fact, the poll found, employees believe "workplace romances can, in some cases, be helpful because the parties involved can be truly sympathetic to the concerns and anxieties of one another's work life."

Loved the office, too
Mr. Reilly was interested in joining Crispin, which doesn't have a formal policy about couples working together, in part because of his personal relationship with Ms. Bowles. But Crispin Executive Creative Director Alex Bogusky was sold when he learned Mr. Reilly had made a bid to work for Crispin seven years earlier, when it was a much smaller, less-talked-about shop.

Others were harder to convince, the couple said, even more so because of their relationship. "People were more difficult to Rob because he was my boyfriend, not because they thought Alex hired him for that reason, but they put him through the wringer because my close friends were worried about me changing at work," Ms. Bowles said.

Mr. Reilly put it more bluntly: "She was a superstar here, and I was the new guy from New York that no one really liked."

But Mr. Reilly eventually found his footing and proved himself -- enough that Mr. Bogusky put him in charge of creative for the agency's Burger King account. Then Mr. Bogusky looked around to see who could help run the account-service side, and "in a perfect world, they would have put Laura in charge of it," Mr. Reilly said. But discussions about whether the two could work closely together stalled when Ms. Bowles was called away on a family emergency.

When she returned, someone else had been put on the business. It was best for their marriage, she said. "It definitely made me think, 'Can our relationship survive that?' "

Ms. Bowles' keeping her maiden name has been trial enough. To razz him, Mr. Reilly said, Crispin's IT staff changed his caller ID to "Rob Bowles."

Where to draw the line
At Austin, Texas-based T3, the only situation where Ms. Gaddis draws the line for married couples is when one person in the couple is the other's manager. "It's a little bit awkward when your spouse is doing your reviews. You can't do that," she said.

A big reason her marriage/work relationship works, Ms. Gaddis said, is that she and her husband are so different and focused on different parts of the business. "We are left side and right side of the brain, no overlap," Mr. Gaddis said, "and that makes a strong team." She added: "He loves the strategic and operational, and I'm more outgoing, selling and recruiting people and business. For us, that works."

The Gaddises also think the fact that they're married humanizes them as bosses, especially in Monday-morning staff meetings, where Mr. Gaddis will often tease his wife "in a way you couldn't do with other staff members," Ms. Gaddis said.

Another couple, Mike and Tracy Hostetler share Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer division as an employer. Both are focused in the innovation arena, she as a brand manager in new-product development and he as a senior marketing research analyst. Though their projects have yet to overlap, he said, "We know in general what's going on with each other at work."

That certainly wasn't always true. Mr. Hostetler put it bluntly: "When I used to work in information technology and software, Tracy wanted to hear very little about what I did."

Now, though, she said, "What's nice is that we're so passionate about what we do, and we share the passion and the interest."

Ms. Hostetler took on her position two and a half years ago after they moved to Madison, Wis., for Mr. Hostetler to get his MBA at the University of Wisconsin. Mr. Hostetler interned and worked part time at Oscar Mayer during his MBA program and took his current full-time position upon graduation. Nowadays, he said, "I'm referred to as Tracy's husband a lot less ... which feels good, a little more reassuring about the work I'm doing."
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