TAG ALONG A look at the pros and cons of bringing spouses on a business trips

Posted on 10/09/2015

Bringing your significant other on a business trip might sound like a no-brainer. The hotel room and perhaps rental car are already paid for. Your loved one can be a companion when you have downtime, as well as a trusted sounding board for ideas in between meetings.
But there are potential pitfalls. If you're working long hours, is your partner OK with dining and sightseeing alone? If it's appropriate to bring a date to business dinners and cocktail parties, is your significant other comfortable socializing with your colleagues? Here are some tips on the pros and cons of bringing spouses or partners on a business trip. Communication and boundaries

Make sure the person tagging along knows what to expect. “It's a work trip for one of you and your time will reflect that,” said Jesse Ghiorzi, a senior manager in brand development for U/S Sports Advisors, who has brought his wife on business trips. “You can do your best to spend time with your partner, but prepare yourselves to be apart and view the time together as a bonus.” Some people enjoy being on their own while their spouse works. Karen Pliskin, a cultural anthropologist, loves tagging along when her physicist husband attends meetings abroad: “I roam around cities where I don't speak the language and can't read the signs. I love it.”

Some business travellers are grateful to have significant others along to plan a fun outing - whether dinner or a show - after a long day of meetings. Stephanie Cuba, who blogs about marriage and family life at BigCityMoms.com, accompanies her husband on business to Omaha, Nebraska, every year, “but we always carve out time for dinner at our favourite restaurant that's just the two of us.” Social gatherings and support Significant others can be a huge help on business trips. Susan Fitzell, a New Hampshire-based consultant and speaker on learning issues, says her husband does everything from getting breakfast to helping set up for her presentations.

But social gatherings can go either way. “If your spouse is particularly reserved or reluctant to attend the organized social functions, you may feel the need to stay close to your spouse instead of meeting new contacts and making a good impression on existing clients,” said Diane Gottsman, a corporate etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. That may lead the business traveller to forgo “important events, such as mixers and business dinners, in order to spend more time with their spouse.” We know of one spouse, who was so obviously bored by her husband’s colleagues on a cruise fam, that she brought along a book and read it through all group meals and functions. It made for some very uncomfortable and awkward dinners at a table for ten.

In cases such as that, it’s far better if your significant other skips the conference cocktail party, or communal meals. Either way, discuss it beforehand. Be inclusive If you're planning a retreat or gathering where employees can bring a guest, be inclusive.

“If you go the traditional route and organize 'shopping trips for the wives,' or promote it as a 'couples trip,' it may discourage qualified people from coming on the trip, which is bad for both their careers and your company,” said Diane Danielson, chief operating officer of Sperry Van Ness International Corp. “Who might be discouraged from coming? Female execs with a male spouse, LGBT employees, someone not in a relationship.” Danielson's company, which is in the commercial real estate industry, offers annual trips to top producers. Neutral language is used to describe who may come as guests, and that has resulted in some “out-of-the box partners” - not just female brokers bringing husbands on what was once seen as a trip for “wives,” but in some cases, brokers inviting their parents or grown children as guests. Last year the destination was a Caribbean resort with enough activities that folks could pursue whatever interested them. Danielson's husband “went off and did his own thing while I was on call,” she said. “He went hiking, snorkeling and played basketball.”