I’ve got a friend who had to hide her relationship with her boyfriend just because they were colleagues. They worked on the same accounts and because of the toxic office environment, had to be wary of revealing their status.
“There was a culture that you should always be pulling your weight and there’s always a fear that our relationship would be used against us. Like ‘oh they’re not OTing because they’re probably going out and leaving all the work to others’.”
Keeping the relationship under wraps was also to safeguard themselves against colleagues they could not trust: “We don’t want people to say things like ‘she/he’s slow because she/he’s distracted by their partner.”
Which begs the question: is it a good idea to date someone you meet at work, or to even work with your romantic partner?
Mixing Business And Personal
There’s a saying that you should never work with friends, otherwise, you have to be prepared for the possible death of that friendship. Working with family or a loved one? Even tougher – how do you even deal with them back at home after fighting at work?
In our Singaporean culture especially, where we are too non-confrontational and would feel too paiseh to offend anyone, that ‘anyone’ being someone we love makes it that much more problematic. And no one wants to be stuck in that awkward dilemma between being nice and having to do their job right.
Similarly, there’s a long-standing belief that you should never ‘shit where you eat’. Some would rather leave a company than start a romantic relationship with their colleague.
Yet today, all these beliefs seem to be more of a myth, as we see more Singaporeans choosing to work with friends, continuing their family businesses, and also being co-bosses to their businesses with their romantic partner.
We spoke to some couples who chose to hustle together to find out how the heck they survive as partners-in-crime in all aspects of their life.
Daniel and Natasha – From Boss And Employee To Lovers
He was her boss, and they found themselves falling for each other as they spent many late nights working on projects together. Their boss-employee dynamics meant they had to keep their dating status under wraps before they found a right way to break the news responsibly to upper management.
Natasha: “It was quite weird at first, but thrilling! For example, because we had to be low-key at the start, we would leave at different times and rendezvous somewhere so it wasn’t obvious.”
Meanwhile, they spent that period setting ground rules to ensure that they wouldn’t let their relationship get in the way of work. However, Natasha admits that there were fights that got so bad, they ended up not talking to one another the whole day. Those instances tempted her to quit.
“In the end, we just sat down with one another and talked about it and laugh at ourselves because of how silly the situation was.”
Now that both of them have moved on to another company, where their job scope also require them to work closely with each other, Natasha talks about how working together has contributed to their growth individually and as a couple.
“During the first 1.5 years, it tested us both. From working on pitches to having a normal brainstorm session, there were times where we let our personal lives come into such work situations. But we realised that it wasn’t healthy so we sat down to thrash things out. From thereon, it became easier to separate work and personal lives.”
Although Natasha admits that both of them would occasionally blurt out “baby” by accident during work hours.
Dedicating quality time with each other out of work has been something that they have practiced as well. To Natasha, having that one-on-one time with each other lets them check in on each other without the ‘noise’ at work.
“We try to keep to our rule of not talking about work during our dates because we don’t want to let it define our relationship. It really helps because you realise that there’s so much more happening in your partner’s life even when you’re working in the same office.”
Wei Zhang & Pauline – A Marriage Of Work And Play
Running a business is a big deal, and for husband and wife Wei Zhang and Pauline, they are in it together.
Each high-achievers who had their own ventures before their partnership in business, Wei Zhang and Pauline have co-owned four businesses since they were 20-years-old. On top of running Lendor, their latest business venture as a couple, both of them are also lecturers at education institutions.
With so much on their plate, stress and conflicts are inevitable. I wondered how they have managed to stay sane and happily married.
Wei Zhang: “It’s true that a conflict that happens at work becomes personal after you get home but I think every couple has conflicts over different issues. At the end of the day, it is more important to know how to resolve conflicts. To also build trust and respect in order to sing in tune and minimise conflicts from arising, be it in business or at home.”
Contrary to what we are used to believe, the husband-wife dynamic has actually made it much easier for them on embarking on projects together.
“We know each other’s strength and weaknesses, and we respect every opinion put on the table. Therefore [working together] was never a big problem for us considering the scale of problems we are attempting to tackle [in our businesses.]”
I asked Wei Zhang if there is any ‘secret sauce’ to making it work as a couple who hustles together.
“I think husband and wife dynamics should be brought to all business partnerships because for business partnerships to tick, there needs to be the same kind of mutual trust and respect between partners.”
Nerissa and Abel – No Sweat In Working Together
Abel has always been active and Nerissa has always wanted to open her own business, thus Box Office Fitness was born. The two of them found a mutual love for the boxing-inspired fitness classes they attended overseas and decided to bring that concept to Singapore.
Being romantic partners and business partners only strengthened their relationship. The only downside?
As they shared with Vulcan Post, it’s that “we spend a lot of time talking about the business so we rarely talk about anything else, but that’s fine and will probably change with time.”
As it is both their very first business venture, I asked Nerissa if they had any major conflicts.
“We very rarely fight over the business since we handle very different aspects of it. The biggest fights we’ve had have always involved cleaning. Like whose turn it is to clean the toilet or whose turn it is to vacuum!”
The couple handles the different aspects of the business based on their individual strengths: Nerissa handles most of the day-to-day operations while Abel focuses on the training aspects of the studio like the programming of classes.
As for segregating work and ‘play’, “we don’t separate work matters and personal emotions and that’s what works for us!”
Blurring Lines Between Business And Personal
Working with someone you are close to can be tricky as there is an emotional baggage, making it tough to clearly distinguish work conflict apart from personal feuds. Furthermore when you’re dealing with someone you love.
It’s also bold to start and run a business in Singapore’s ultra-competitive landscape. And it’s heartening to see that millennials are breaking the trite stereotype of millennials being underachieving strawberries. What more, going against the grain together with their other half.
There may be a belief that business and personal can never go well together, but these couples, and the couples we spoke to on camera a year ago for the video Can Couples Work Together?, prove otherwise.
Juggling work and personal is no longer a miracle as long as each individual is determined to make things work with the other. Most of all, it is the trust and respect that they have got each other’s back.