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Employers seek out couples who create careers out of working together
Mike and Debbie Giurlanda are a package deal at the manufactured housing community where they work in Clarkston, Mich. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is the property manager at Kingsley Management Corp.--Independence Woods MHC, supervising the 110 apartments and 430 homes at the community. Her husband handles maintenance.
They were hired as a unit in November 2014. Each works about 40 hours weekly in their separate jobs, commuting about 2 minutes to the office from their company-provided housing. They worked a similar couples-type job at a manufactured-home community when they lived in California and liked it.
“We’re a very strong team,” said Debbie Giurlanda. “We had a cleaning business in Michigan for a while, so we had a trial run” of working together before taking their first working couple’s job in California in December 2013.
They like spending more time together. When they worked for separate organizations, “most days of the week we saw each other for an hour, two hours” after coming home from work, recalled Mike Giurlanda. “We were married and never saw each other.”
However, “living onsite is totally different than being able to leave your job and going home,” Debbie Giurlanda said. “You have to learn how to set boundaries” and not socialize with residents to avoid claims of favoritism. “It’s hard.”
Their employer is among those that actively recruit couples for job openings. The Giurlandas found their job at WorkingCouples.com, a jobs website Lee and Robin Ashworth launched in 2006 that caters to teams of two: spouses, partners, siblings or friends. It has more than 2,000 employers who are registered subscribers, according to Lee Ashworth.
Openings range from industrial health screening teams to resort managers to house parents at institutions such as Boys Town. Most, though, are for domestic work and managers of self-storage companies, apartment complexes and RV parks—positions that usually require living onsite, often a security measure that saves the company money.
How pay is handled varies with the employer; sometimes both partners are paid individually while others earn a combined income. The age of couples runs the gamut from 18-year-olds to people well past traditional retirement age. The largest demographic is made up of empty nesters and retirees, according to Lee Ashworth. The lure is not necessarily about a paycheck or the free onsite housing that is a common perk.
“A lot of it is ‘We’re ready to do something different’ ” and have an adventure, Ashworth said. Ten years ago, he and his wife were hired as a couple at an exotic resort on a tiny island in Nicaragua. However, the rustic setting and lack of infrastructure made for a short stay.
“We didn’t know Spanish and we hadn’t even seen the place; there was definitely an element of fun and adventure,” he said in a news release.
Being part of a working couple is not for everybody, he acknowledged.
“Not only do you work all day with your partner … you talk about your work when you get home,” he said. In some cases, the couple is on call after normal work hours, such as at a retirement community the Ashworths managed in Ohio.
Retention, Productivity Strategy
At Gordon Trucking Inc. near Seattle, couples are encouraged to apply for team driver jobs, said Heidi Miltimore, senior HR generalist at Gordon. The company employs about 2,000 drivers, 100 of whom are classified as "team drivers." Among its team drivers, 35 are married and drive together. They go through the hiring process as individual employees and receive separate paychecks but opt to drive as a team—often because they want to travel the country together.
The longest couple tenure at Gordon has worked there since 1984 and the majority of the married couples have driven for Gordon for 10 years.
“It’s worked out really well for us,” Miltimore said. Retention is stronger for working couples because drivers are away from home for weeks and the company has found that solo drivers often “can’t handle being away from their family for long periods of time.”
Working couples are more productive than solo drivers, she noted, because all drivers are bound by regulations that mandate they take rest breaks after so many hours on the road. “[Solo drivers] have to stop and turn the truck off to get their rest break, but in a team environment they can just keep rolling,” with one partner driving while the other rests, she said.
Miltimore advised employers considering hiring couples to be clear about their expectations.
“Hold them accountable if they’re not meeting expectations [of professionalism],” she said. If personal issues are creating problems, talk with them before the situation escalates. If they are unable to continue working together but the behavior is not severe enough for termination, consider allowing them to work apart from each other.
That’s not always an option with some employers.
When one partner’s performance issues result in termination, or the couple is no longer a twosome because of separation, divorce or death, the job usually ends for both, especially when onsite housing is involved, according to WorkingCouple’s Lee Ashworth.
“From our experience working as a couple, the job’s a package deal: If one person leaves, they both leave,” he said. The employer should be transparent about this upfront, he added, and tell couples “We’re hiring a team, so if you’re no longer a team … you’re both out.”
Depending on the organization, working couples don’t necessarily have to be married. Winston Connorton and Kate Roosa are an unmarried couple who provide around-the-clock therapeutic care in the home they share with two child clients at Spurwink Services in Brunswick, Maine.
Spurwink, which has provided a range of mental health and educational services for 50 years, has used the therapeutic couple model for 35 years. It currently employs 34 residential couples who teach adults and children basic life skills and positive behaviors so they may return to their families as quickly as possible. Couples also work closely with the families and other treatment team members.
Connorton and Roosa had been in a long-distance relationship for five years while Roosa attended college in Indiana and Connorton worked in Washington, D.C. When Roosa graduated in 2014 with a degree in neuroscience, they tried to find separate jobs in the same location. Landing employment at Spurwink in July 2014 fit their need to be together, Connorton said.
“We’re looking for couples who have been together for a period of time, because their relationship needs to be stable,” said Elizabeth Derrig, Spurwink’s assistant program director for residential services in Brunswick.
During joint interviews, couples are asked about their communication style, are given hypothetical scenarios, and are asked to reflect on their relationship and how they deal with challenges.
“We already had communication and teamwork skills and had already built that relationship,” Roosa said.
The stability of a couple’s relationship and a track record of working together are more important than job experience for working couple jobs, according to Lee Ashworth. He advised employers to listen carefully during interviews to “weed out any shaky relationship.”
Working couples should do their part to be dedicated team players and clear communicators, he said, by:
“Working together can be powerfully transformative in any relationship,” Lee Ashworth said in a news release. It can be a win for employers, too. “Employers all over the world are looking for couples right now.”
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.
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