In health and sickness, riches and poverty – is ideal oath that couples say at marriage – but the choice of the partner can make us richer or poor? A study published in the journal Psychological Science shows that the answer is unequivocally yes. In fact, the study shows that the couple personality has great impact on our ability to gain more in promotion prospects and satisfaction at work. Researchers Brittany C. Solomon and Joshua J. Jackson of Washington University in St. Louis have a database that contains information collected over five years in thousands of households in Australia, and drew conclusions about the link between success in work and husband’s personality. The study took place between 2005 and 2009 and contains information about 4544 participants, all heterosexual married couples, 73.3% were performed in households in which both spouses worked.
The personality data covered in the study are known as the “big five” dimensions — extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness. The researchers found that the only spousal trait that was important to an employee’s work outcomes was conscientiousness, which turns out to predict employee income, number of promotions, and job satisfaction, regardless of gender.
To put the income finding in dollar terms, with every 1-standard-deviation increase in a spouse’s conscientiousness, an individual is likely to earn approximately $4,000 more per year, averaging across all ages and occupations, according to Solomon. And one way to frame the promotion finding is that employees with extremely conscientious spouses (two standard deviations above the mean) are 50% more likely to get promoted than those with extremely unconscientious spouses (two standard deviations below the mean).
Even more remarkable is that the data allowed the researchers to figure out why spousal conscientiousness matters.
First, conscientious spouses handle a lot of household tasks, freeing employees to concentrate on work (“When you can depend on someone, it takes pressure off of you,” Solomon told me). Second, conscientious spouses make employees feel more satisfied in their marriages (which ties in to the first study I mentioned). Third, employees tend to emulate their conscientious spouses’ diligent habits. This doesn’t mean your success depends on your being in a relationship. There are plenty of single people who shine at work, and there are plenty of effective business leaders who are unattached. In fact, research suggests that in certain circumstances, being single can help CEOs run their companies: firms led by unmarried chiefs invest more aggressively and take greater risks than other firms. But as Solomon says, successful people often turn out to have strong marital relationships. “When you’re in a relationship, you’re no longer just two individuals; you’re this entity,” she says. The more solid the entity, the greater your advantage.
It’s obvious, of course, that our one-dimensional work lives don’t fully represent our multidimensional outside lives, that each of us is just the visible manifestation in cubeland of a sprawling existence that not only extends far and wide in the moment but has a whole history behind it. Although we may look like a collection of dots on a floor plan, each of those dots is like the intersection in space of a long line and a two-dimensional surface. The surface (the workplace) doesn’t see the lines; it sees only the points of intersection, the dots.
But what isn’t obvious is the extent to which so many people are parts of teams, in a sense — two-person teams that are based outside the office. Any particular colleague or boss or direct report might be supported by a truly conscientious spouse, someone who willingly — even joyfully — takes care of details that would otherwise become headaches and interfere with work. For that matter, any particular colleague or boss or report might be hampered by a spousal relationship that’s a couple of standard deviations below the mean, as they say.
We can’t and probably don’t want to know the details about these teams, but as Solomon points out, if organizations really understood the workplace effects of strong outside relationships, they might be more receptive to policies like flextime and telecommuting that make it easier for employees to spend time with their significant others.
Maybe you don’t agree that your company should get involved in trying to improve your spousal relationship. But there are things you can do on your own. You can support your spouse in supporting you. If you depend on his or her reliability, diligence, and goal orientation, don’t take those traits for granted. Maybe you’ve been standing heroically at the bow for so long that you’ve forgotten how much effort it takes to row. So sit down and row for a while.
And while you’re rowing, how about suggesting that your spouse get up and stand heroically in the bow for a change? Emulate his or her conscientious: Really put your back into it. You may find that your conscientious spouse has a compelling vision of his or her own that will take you into unexpected places.