Of good colleagues and bad husbands

Writing in the Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway ponders on whether there’s any reason that people who have good marriages should have good relationships in the office. (Let’s keep the marriage counsellors out of the office). She reasons that people behave are very differently at home and at work, with men often being pussies at home and tigers in the office, and doing their mewling in the office and their growling at home. Then she asks “are there any parallels at all between marriages and work relationships?”

“There may be a negative one” she reasons. “Success at work may go hand in hand with failure in matirmony. Successful people have bigger egos, are in the office all the time, have lots of money and the opportunity to stray.” In other words, Kellaway implies, the character traits and circumstances that make you successful and the trappings of success combine to undermine the prospect of a successful marriage. Thus spake the management guru.

But let’s look at the same question through an epidemiologist’s glasses (rephrasing it as a pedantic epidemiologists would have to): “is there any correlation between between good marriages and good work relationships?” We’d collect data from the 3,000 couples in the “Love Labs” Kellaway refers to. We’d ask them endless questions about their marriage and their working relationships, how much time the spend at work and at home, how much money they spend on husbands and toy boys. If we had a generous enough grant, we’d ask their husbands and their colleagues too. We’d devise a five-point scale to measure ego and satsifaction in the bedroom and the boardroom. We’d spend six months on the analysis, and two months writing it up for publication. And we may well conclude that there is a negative correlation between good marriages and good work relationships, because successful people have bigger egos, are in the office all the time, have lots of money and the opportunity to stray.

Then, in the discussion section of our paper, we’d point out that we can’t, in a cross-sectional study, ascertain the direction of causality. Perhaps people are in the office more because they have bad marriages? Perhaps they score well on relations with their colleagues because they are as good in the bedroom as the boardroom, and, denied the chance to practice in their bad marriage, are generously sharing their skills with their staff? So maybe it is not success in business that undermines a good marriage, but failure in marriage that fertilises success in business.

Kellaway dismisses one of the Love Lab’s key findings, that contempt doesn’t do much for marital happiness: “you don’t need to have observed 3,000 marriages to work that out.” But we epidemiologists would draw a different conclusion. This cross-sectional study points to important and sometimes unexpected correlations between success at home and at work. A longitudinal cohort study is needed to ascertain the direction of causality in the relationship.” Surely worth another grant proposal…

This post was published on 17/12/07 in Science.

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  1. Comment by Fox, 18/12/07, 03:13:

    I resemble that remark …

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