I hadn’t even been in my current job one full week before I watched two coworkers bring themselves to tears during separate conversations. (Coincidentally, both were recalling memories of their beloved dogs who passed away in recent years.) A sensitive person myself, I choked back my own tears both times. I also remember thinking, ‘Gee, people are emotional in this department…is that a good thing or a bad thing?’
Talking about aspects of our personal lives – like our wonderful pets who are no longer with us – is one thing. What about when the tears are related to work? When a coworker became overwhelmed by her list of action items coming out of a meeting, I didn’t know what to say to comfort her when the tears began to fall over her keyboard. Tell her I’m sorry to hear about her frustration (seemed a little dramatic to express my sorrow)? Complain about how they put too much work on her (seemed wrong to feed into negativity)? Be her cheerleader and remind her they expect a lot out of her because they know she’s an asset (seemed cliché but it’s what I told her since I did believe it to be the truth)? Anyways, she composed herself before I had to think much into it.
Then another time, a different coworker told me she wished her commute home was longer so she could get a good cry out before getting to her house. She didn’t want to cry about work at the office, but she didn’t want to bring it home with her either.
Oh the conundrum.
But as I’ve come to be a fixture in the company as well, I, too, have had a few emotions that have revealed themselves in the form of a tear. I’m not talking audible sobbing, but quivering lips and brimming eyes. ‘I shouldn’t cry here,’ I thought, as I ran to the bathroom to blot my red puffy eyes in the third stall one time. ‘This could maybe hurt my career, or worse – alienate these people who have come to respect me and enjoy my presence.’
But when we spend the majority of our week at the office, it almost seems like letting it out here is the place to do it. There are people who would agree, and there are people who would think this idea is crazy and unacceptable – ‘there’s a time and a place to cry…’ But the thing about crying is it just comes on, and there’s not much stopping it, even when it happens at work. While I’m no expert on the topic (and I’m sure there is no clear answer), here are some thoughts on the matter.
There are obvious situations – like the death of someone close to us or dealing with unexpected news – that warrant tears. In these moments, it’s probably OK to let it out, so long as you don’t present an awkward situation for whoever is around. If your coworkers are also your friends, a private moment in the bathroom to receive a hug might be all you need to feel comfort and carry on with your day. But beware that, no matter how sorry your boss may feel for you, he or she won’t appreciate your situation if you create a distraction among others in the office. So try to keep it away from your desk.
If you’re crying about work, make sure you’re crying to the right person. Occasionally, we get emotional about our jobs: frustration with a project, work/life balance, etc. Tearfully expressing this to a coworkers can be interpreted as drama and sound more like complaining. Thus, the tears won’t be excused, so save it for after work, perhaps over drinks (there’s no harm in that!). However, having a closed door conversation with your boss, the person who can help resolve the issue (like reduce the workload, rearrange your hours, etc.) is more appropriate. And if tears happen, your boss will know it’s genuine and that you simply are emotionally vested.
In the end, there are pros and cons to crying at work. Tears can be misinterpreted as drama, distraction, whining, manipulation, inappropriate defending of oneself and unprofessional. Keep your tears in check by asking yourself if you’re being dramatic, a distraction, a whiner, manipulative, defensive or unprofessional. But tears happen. A cry can be healthy. If it happens at work and you didn’t intend for it to, the best thing to do is take a deep breath and excuse yourself. Remind yourself that you’re human and you’re not hurting anyone.
What do you think about crying at work?