International Week of Happiness at Work – Could you run a business with your life partner?

Happiness at Work: Running a Business with Your Life Partner
International Week of Happiness at Work – 23rd September 2019

As it’s International Week of Happiness at Work, Clare and Barrie share their own top tips on how to achieve happiness at work when it involves working with your life partner!


Happiness at Work – Could you run a business with your life partner? 5 Tips for Survival

After 27 years of marriage and 17 of those working together running our business inspired2learn, we are both still smiling (mostly). Many of our friends and colleagues have said they can imagine nothing worse than working with their life partner.

Here are our 5 top tips for a happy husband and wife business team.

Clare Smale’s tips…

  1. Set some rules about the location and timings of the working day. When is it OK to talk about work and does this include (or not include) over the morning cornflakes or whilst walking the dog? And vice versa – when is it not OK to start a conversation about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher. The physical separation of home and office have really helped us achieve this in previous years. We now work from home and have found shutting the door on domestic space and ‘going to work’ in a specific area have really helped us to manage boundaries.
  2. Understand the nature of each other’s differences. Simply realising that we are different and having a language to articulate this through profiling tools has been very beneficial to our relationship. We take our differences and the business tensions they create, less personally and with more acceptance. We often tease each other to diffuse many of the minor work irritations created by knowing each other so well.
  3. Pursue joint interests outside of work and escape for some time together as a couple most days. Go for a walk, run some domestic errands together or meet for a coffee away from the office. In addition to our normal domestic life, we make an effort to follow our joint love of cycling and sport together and take regular short holidays. This enables us to both enjoy a mutual leisure activity and support each other away from business conversations. We still have plenty to talk about and plan together in our personal life.
  4. Have work and personal interests away from each other. Keep your own space and identity. Continue to enjoy your own interests and friendships. Take on distinct business projects and responsibilities and achieve business milestones alone as well as together. Work hard at your confidence and identity as an individual as well as the business identity and brand.
  5. Care for your relationship. Be clear on which is most important in the long term – your personal relationship or the business? I believe that your love and regard for each other doesn’t stop in business hours, but should be managed professionally. Separating personal reactions and emotions from business conversations is a must and I find this particularly tricky. Criticism on a business issue doesn’t mean you’re not loved any more – easy for me to write here, but hard for me to manage intelligently in the moment.

Barrie Smale’s tips…

  1. Keep out of each other’s way! Seriously, working in the same office can lead to ‘contact overload’ no matter how strong the relationship.
  2. Keep work conversations to agreed work hours in any given day.
  3. Perform your own specialist roles in the business, with minimal overlap, and support each other in those roles.
  4. Respect each other’s views and treat disagreements as ‘positive conflict’ – it often leads to better quality decisions.
  5. Agree who will have the casting vote for each decision. Two people in a decision making process can lead to stalemate.


So, who is the key to being happy at work?

Simple – both of you.

Recognise and manage the ups and downs, just as you would in any other area of running a business. Acknowledge each other’s strengths and be supportive. Remain flexible and considerate of each other’s needs. Separate business decisions and discussions from personal emotions (easier said than done when you are heavily invested in each other). And more than anything else, celebrate success and have fun!

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