Harry and Paula Cox are husband-and-wife – and both in facilities management. Having met as client and contractor, their relationship developed into one more personal. They have spent six years together, and both agreed to share their experience of working in the same profession as their spouse. Does dinner-table conversation veer into a discussion about dealing with difficult clients, or is there a ban on FM talk at the end of the working day?
How long have you been together as a couple/married, and how long have each of you worked in FM?
Paula Cox (PC) I am a chef by profession and moved into FM about 12 years ago.
Harry Cox (HC) I started by working in post/print rooms after being an apprentice electrician. I moved into full FM by chance about 15 years ago.
PC We have been together just over six years and married 2.5 years. We met on a contract where Harry was the client – not ideal, and not always easy.
HC This was for around nine months, and everyone around us was supportive as we never let it affect our professional life.
Does having that connection at home help with development at work? How have your respective careers progressed and what impact has your spouse had on that?
PC We don’t discuss specifics at home generally, however, if there is an issue that I feel that Harry can help with I will ask. He is a great support with templates and ideas on how to present things, but I do tend to keep work at work. My career has really taken off in the last six years and because I have the support and understanding at home it has made decisions easier.
HC Definitely, as we understand the challenges of FM and can help each other around general issues. Although we are careful not to divulge specifics, especially if we are working for competitors. There is also usually some friendly rivalry! In the six years I have changed jobs a few times, working both client-side for an international law firm and service side. I always have the full support of Paula.
Are you able to
separate your work
and personal lives?
PC Yes, if stressed my mood will take a nose-dive, which of course has an impact. However, generally we are able to separate these.
HC [Laughs] I haven’t noticed, dear. Yes, definitely, we have a lot going on outside of work and keep ourselves busy.
What’s the key to ensuring a healthy work-life balance, in each of
PC I would like to say being strict with such things as emails, during the week. But I don’t tend to take my phone with me at weekends because I can be a nightmare otherwise.
HC [laughs again] We understand that the life of an FM isn’t a 9-5 job, so during the week we don’t give each other a hard time.
PC On holiday I will take calls, attend teleconference meetings, but only if important. I have got better, although this is an area I struggle with. But Harry understands and we generally have an agreement that we log on once a day and that’s it.
HC What an understanding husband I am. Paula’s role is international and having done that myself before, I completely understand the need for flexibility.
Have there been any instances when being able to discuss a problem has helped? Do you ask each other for tips over dinner?
HC Yes definitely, I guess, as any normal couple would. Offloading at the end of the day. Being from a chef’s background, Paula helped with my education on catering operations, regulation and budgets.
PC There have been times over the years and generally it is over dinner; we tend then to leave the work discussion – if we have them – in the kitchen.
Do you ever get tired of discussing work?
PC No, as it’s not something we do all that often.
HC But I do talk a lot (somewhat annoyingly sometimes) and work is a big part of what I do.
Are there any issues in working in FM that affect your personal lives, such as the ability to plan annual leave?
PC We haven’t found this difficult yet. I travel a lot with my job and the time away has not always been easy, but we take it in our stride. I have recently taken a foreign assignment in Singapore so we are apart at the moment, which is not easy. The time when you need a partner to understand your job and support you is at the beginning of a new one, so I have found it a struggle not to have Harry around. The next challenge will be the big move to Singapore; new culture, and travelling a lot as my role is regional – but I know Harry will support me.
HC I agree, we haven’t found anything that has been a significant challenge. Actually it’s helped recently as we are building a couple of villas in Kefalonia and our FM experience is helping plan and manage the whole project.
HC I’m also currently pursuing opportunities in FM based in Singapore. Paula’s change to her APAC role has been our biggest challenge to date, however, we both also know it will be a great experience.
What advice would you give another couple who work in the same industry?
PC It’s a great, diverse industry to work in with ever-changing demands, I think with any couple in any industry it’s just understanding the challenges working in the same industry that helps as there is a level of understanding.
HC Support each other through thick and thin. It’s never always going to be easy, especially at times when you are both stressed and feeling the pressure. FM covers many areas and it’s very easy to look at the positives your partner can bring. Develop together.
What irksome FM problem have you found yourself most in agreement about?
PC – Unrealistic client demands.
HC – I have worked both sides several times, and do understand the demanding nature of clients, having been one myself. I’m happy to remind my wife of these.
Do you have a work talk curfew?
HC Er, yes.