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In Their Own Words

See the up-close personal -- and professional -- relationship of work spouses Lois Marino and Greg Dalmotte in this edited transcript of an interview of the pair by feature writer Julie Cook Ramirez.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007
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Greg Dalmotte is vice president and manager of the office of "WOW!" -- a small department created to boost employee engagement -- at BankAtlantic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Lois Marino is assistant vice president and assistant manager in that office.

LOIS: I started with the bank in 1999. About a year after the WOW! department started, I was asked to interview for the WOW!! specialist position within the department. I was very leery about the position because I was going from being in operations training to a WOW! specialist.

So I was a little leery, and I was actually a little leery of Greg because he reminded me of a used-car salesman.

I went for the interview and Greg seemed real nice. We were from the same place. We were both from New York. We both had families. We were both married and had kids. So there seemed to be some similarities there.

Before I knew it, I got the job and I started working and it was pretty interesting from the start.

GREG: I didn't really know Lois. When I first started at the bank, I was assigned to start up a new department called the Office of WOW!, which really speaks around employee engagement. I didn't know anyone at the bank.

My boss that hired me said 'I have this girl in mind that I want you to hire. I think she would be great for your position.' I knew Lois because she was in training and I'd met her before. I was like, 'Lois Marino?!' I used to see her walk in and she had this big bushy hair-do.

She was kind of quiet, so I didn't see her fitting with us. After getting to know her, I definitely knew she was the right choice for ...

LOIS: What happened was he [mistook] quiet for professional. That was the difference.

I started in November and my very first project Greg handed to me and said, 'Here, it's all yours.'

We do an event called Photos with Santa and that's where our associates and customers are invited to a BankAtlantic location to take a photo with Santa ... and it's totally free to the community.

I knew nothing about this type of event. He happened to be on the road with another one of our co-workers visiting all of our stores at the time. ...I was a little leery about the department and him. Now, he hands me this big huge event that I have to handle and needless to say, I was very nervous. I got through it.

I made a couple mistakes along the way, and that's when I found out that Greg and I were really going to get along. It was during a meeting with one of our bosses, who's now the president of the company, that I made a really big mistake and I admitted to it.

Greg happened to be on the line with Jarrod, and I was in [Jarrod's] office. Greg insisted that it wasn't my fault, that it was his fault for this major mistake that I had made.

Jarrod turns around and says to Greg, 'Are you sure it was your mistake?'

He said, 'Absolutely, it was my fault.'

He said, 'Well, it's funny you would say that because Lois is sitting right here and she admitted that it was totally her fault.'

At that point, I really knew that's when our relationship began, how much he really cared about me.

GREG: It's been a long relationship. We're kind of a small department. We are three or four people. We are asked to do a lot of things. It really takes a group of dedicated people. We're working long hours. We're coming in early; we're working late at night.

You have to have that trust in someone. ... If Lois called my house, [my wife] would say, 'Oh, your other wife is on the phone,' and things like that. We always just had that title of your work husband or your work wife, which is really kind of unique.

What's even better is our families have developed a bond together. We know each other. We hang out with each other. We don't exactly live that close to each other. We are about an hour and 15 minutes from each other. We like each other. It's kind of hard to explain. You just know when you have that bond together.

LOIS: We have to sometimes work a lot of hours. Sometimes, we come in early in the morning. Sometimes, we have to stay late. Especially with our families at home, it made it a lot easier if they knew what was really going on between Greg and I as friends because then they could feel confident knowing that yes, it's just a work thing. It has nothing to do with anything more. That could really put a strain on a family.

GREG: I know Lois. I know her family. I think I probably know her family maybe better than she knows her family.

LOIS: He's probably right. On the other side of that, too, is that Greg being male -- at least, I think he's male -- I'm kidding.

Anyhow, it's good because you have a friend. You have girlfriends and stuff, but it's always nice to get the man's perspective of things. There's nothing else attached to it, so that's what's good about it, too.

I can always get his opinion, and I get a real opinion because he's not a female. You know how girls tend to want to side with you. We're more sensitive -- not that Greg's not sensitive.

GREG: I really do have a sensitive side.

LOIS: Yes, he does. He has a sensitive side. And it's true -- we've been through a lot together with work and personally, too, when our families -- whether it's an element in the family or situations in the family, we talk to each other. It always helps.

GREG: She's like my right hand. I could set my clock by Lois. A good example is we drive to work in the morning ...

LOIS: Not together.

GREG: I could tell you at 7:41, Lois will ring my cell phone like clockwork, just to discuss what's going on in the day, see how everyone's night was. We just have that closeness. It's simply work and professional, which is really, really good. I think I actually speak to her more than my own wife sometimes.

LOIS: I was thinking about that, too. I probably talk to you more than I do to Jamie.

GREG: That's probably good for my wife. I don't drive her batty.

JULIE: I've heard that's one of the things that can be good about these relationships, you're not going home at the end of the day and spewing out all these work stories, you've already done that with your work spouse.

LOIS: Oh, yeah.

GREG: Definitely. You know what's weird? My wife is not in the same profession as I am, so it's kind of hard to speak to her about it sometimes. She probably could care less to some extent. But Lois and I face a lot of the same challenges, not only professionally, but in our personal lives, so it's good that you can speak to someone that can relate to those types of things.

Overall, she's a pretty good egg. She's a keeper.

LOIS: That's the other thing, too. We work very nicely together. I'm here to help him. He's here to help me. He pushes me to do things sometimes I think I can't do it. That's nice, too. Pretty much of our department is we do things together. There's not usually too many projects that we work on single-handedly.

GREG: We are both kind of workaholics, which is good and bad. Connecting is very hard to do. Speaking about it, at least, we try to pick up for each other, give each other breaks when needed which is important. And she's my buddy most times -- except when she's in a bad mood. I don't even want to be around her.

LOIS: Yeah, he can pretty much tell that when I'm in a yucky mood. I'll get quiet -- or if I'm very focused.

...

LOIS: Greg is officially my boss. That's the nice thing. He does things like a boss would do -- or maybe not. I don't even know if other bosses do that. But he really cares about not working too hard, but I have to say it's not only with me.

He does give that same respect to all our associates in our department as well because he manages seven people or nine people. At that level of work, he does treat us all the same. He truly cares about his associates and that's important.

JULIE: Are you each others' only work spouse or do you have other work spouses? Is there a work harem, so to speak?

LOIS: There better not be! (Laughs) There better not be!

GREG: A work harem? That would be kind of cool, but unfortunately, it's just my work spouse.

LOIS: Same here.

GREG: Two's enough.

...

JULIE: Did the work spouse dynamic develop slowly over time? Was there a certain time you could point to and say, 'that's when we really became something more than just co-workers?'

LOIS: I don't know. I think there was a certain connection at first.

GREG: I don't know how she could resist.

LOIS: Yeah, his sexy physique over here. (Laughs) You know what, too? As I said, this department was totally new for me. Greg was more familiar with what was going on in this department because he was familiar with customer engagement and employee engagement. I was always on the retail side. So for me, there were a lot of challenges that I faced that Greg helped me get through.

GREG: I don't know if it was immediate.

LOIS: Yeah, I don't know if it was immediate.

GREG: I could see like just from being her manager, she was very trustworthy, dedicated, had a lot of the same qualities that I like and I found important. It helps build that bond when you find those type of people that work for you.

Regardless of what we speak about -- it could be personal; it could be business -- it's not that we don't take it seriously, but we don't take it to that next level where we let it affect us. It's almost like a good sounding board that you can talk to people like that.

Except when she's in a bad mood. Then I know to stay away.

LOIS: Listen, I heard on the radio this morning that men get those moods, too, so ...

GREG: Not me.

LOIS: Yeah. Greg gets them.

GREG: I'm pretty easy going, believe me.

JULIE: What about your co-workers? Does this affect workplace dynamics at all? Do other people say they feel excluded because you share this closeness?

LOIS: You have to understand our department a little bit and what we've created. Our goal for the organization is to create employee engagement, regardless of what department you're in. Enjoying coming to work. It's building relationships at the bank. Our department is probably the example of what all departments should be as far as being close to the associates. So I would have to say that they don't feel that they are left out.

GREG: I don't think they feel left out, but they consider us like work spouses.

LOIS: It's kind of like, 'Can I go to the dance tonight, Mom?' 'Well, go ask your father.' It's kind of like that. If they know that Greg's not here, they know they can come to me and they know I'm going to give them the same answer Greg would.

GREG: But a lot of the employees refer to us as like, 'Your husband isn't here. Where's your husband?' Or 'where's your wife?'

LOIS: Yeah. Other employees outside our department know that about us.

GREG: It's kinda weird.

LOIS: Internally, in our department, we are all pretty close in our department. We all conquer family issues together. We know what goes on with each other to a level.

GREG: But that's the environment of the bank. The bank really encourages that. Relationships and employees to feel good about their positions.

Does it exist throughout the organization? You know, I believe there are a lot of work spouses at BankAtlantic.

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I see it. I am responsible for the employee-engagement piece, so I'm always doing a lot of observing. I see it in the café. You can see there are a lot of the same males and females, they interact every single day. They have lunch together. They walk through the halls together.

I don't know if I'm unique to BankAtlantic. I think there's a lot of us here. (Referring to media relations contact) But Patty's still single here. She hasn't found one yet.

LOIS: She tried to steal mine, but I had to put her right in her place! Back off! He's my work spouse. Go find your own!

GREG: I wonder if you pay work alimony if you ever leave each other.

LOIS: Well, we always tease each other, too, because there are times when Greg and I don't agree. How often does that happen?

But there are times that we see things differently. And I'm always teasing him: "That's it. We're going to get a divorce. That's it." It's kind of funny, but we're very good in the sense that we compromise. He'll give me the reins and say, 'Alright. If you want to do it. Go ahead. See how it works.'

There is one thing about Greg. He never admits he's wrong.

GREG: I admit I'm wrong.

LOIS: No, you don't. You still haven't said 'I'm sorry' for that ...

JULIE: Relationship experts say it's almost impossible to keep these relationships platonic. Are they cynical or is your relationship a rarity?

GREG: I think they are cynical. I think these types of relationships happen often.

LOIS: If Greg moved away, I would not let that stop us from being friends. I wouldn't not be friends with him anymore. I wouldn't sever this relationship.

...

GREG: We won't hide from our spouses. In the sense that if they call the house, we speak in front of them about whatever's going on. I guess if we were tiptoeing around doing weird things or spoke to each other, it might trigger or fuel their emotions in the wrong direction.

LOIS: Maybe that leads to -- if they think you are --

GREG: We both have the relationships, not only with each other but with our families which is important. You have the same values. To me, that's what it's all about.

...

JULIE: People who are in favor of this trend say it benefits morale and productivity. I would guess you would agree with that.

GREG: Definitely.

LOIS: Definitely.

GREG: You spend a lot of your waking hours at work, so you'd better be in a place that you like to work at and people you like to work with. If you don't have that, you are probably miserable throughout your life.

...

GREG: It's just a good relationship, no matter how you look at it. It's not just a working relationship, it's an overall relationship that you can speak about anything and you have that trust level. To me, that's important, to trust people. You just don't get that anywhere nowadays.

LOIS: I can tell you what Greg's favorite restaurant is for lunch.

GREG: Can you tell me what my favorite food is?

LOIS: We either go to Arby's or McDonald's. We went to McDonald's on Tax Day and he had two Big Macs, a large fry, a large Coke, and an ice cream sundae. Then we go to Arby's and he orders these hot roast beef sandwiches and fries and a drink. But we used to work at the Sunrise location, we used to go to Miami Subs and every time we went there, it was hot dogs. Greg had this thing for hot dogs. There's only three places that we usually go and those are the three items he usually gets. Now, ask Greg what my favorite food is.

GREG: Lois doesn't eat. I'm really concerned about her. She goes through these phases where she puts on -- she looks good. She has enough weight on her body. But then she goes through these things where she's going to diet herself to death.

Like she'll eat a piece of lettuce. That's her lunch for the entire day. I feel like I'm working next to the human skeleton sometimes.

She's up presenting in front of the room. If you can envision a skeleton like you buy on Halloween and its teeth are chattering, that's what I feel like I'm looking at.

...

LOIS: Tell her I'm not that thin.

GREG: She's thin.

LOIS: He's just mad because I won't eat hot fudge sundaes with him. And he likes to eat those --

GREG: It's ungodly. I feel like I'm working with a corpse.

LOIS: And I always yell at him about his cholesterol, especially when he eats two Big Macs. I wasn't too thrilled with him that day because I pay close attention to his cholesterol.

GREG: I'm completely the opposite where she's a health-conscious freak. I'll put anything down my throat. You can't live forever.

LOIS: Yeah, that's his famous line.

...

JULIE: What would you say to our readers, the HR managers, who are hearing both sides of this issue?

GREG: I would tell them to encourage people to build relationships at their company, encourage them that they can trust each other, show them that there are a lot of benefits to it. They can look across a lot of drivers.

If they are measuring attrition, productivity, they will see the benefits, as long as they are measuring what they are looking for. We do it here at the bank. We are constantly looking at those gauges and we definitely see the results because of it. They'd be foolish not to do something like that.

Maybe it doesn't have to be a work spouse, but it could just be someone that they confide in and completely trust.

LOIS: A best friend at work.

GREG: That really does go a long, long way. We do a lot of measuring here and we definitely see there are just huge benefits. We measure everything from attrition to productivity to sick days. There's a lot to be said for having these types of relationships.

...

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