• 26th April 2007 - By proteman

    Early in my career I had a colleague (let’s call her Liza) who was a self-professed “crier”. She was young, professional and competent. But when she became angry, frustrated or felt backed into a corner, the water-works would start. I remember one day Liza left our boss’ office after receiving her performance review. I asked her how it went. She said, “We’re just on a break. We stopped because I was crying. I’m humiliated.”

    No matter how hard Liza tried to choke back the tears, she couldn’t. It made her feel weak and stupid – she didn’t want to be crying – but she claimed that she just couldn’t control it. I felt so bad for her. It was hard enough back then for a young female professional to get respect in the consulting world. Tears just made it near impossible.

    I bring this story up because today’s Wall Street Journal online edition has an article by Sue Shellenbarger headlined, Crying at Work Gains Acceptance. In it, Shellengbarger makes the case that the proliferation of Gen Y’ers in today’s workplace is making it more acceptable to show emotions, including crying. The article says that the younger generation is generally more in touch with feelings than baby boomers – and that clashes between more stoic older bosses and more sensitive younger workers are ensuing in the workplace.

    So will crying be “cool” at work? Will managers get promoted for their open sensitivity and ability to openly shed tears? Is crying really gaining acceptance at work?

    I think this remains to be seen. A few things I question:

    - Even if people (including those interviewed for the WSJ article) claim that they accept crying at work, I wonder what they actually feel about it. I’d like to think that I’m an open, accepting person and wouldn’t judge someone who cried at work…but subconsciously, would I feel differently? Would I somehow see the person as weak? (I’m not sure, but I guess it would depend on the circumstances and why the person was crying.)

    - I wonder how many of my clients would want their consultant to cry in front of them…or worse yet, in front of a group of their leaders. My bet is that while a client might feel sorry or embarassed for the consultant, they’d be a lot less confident in that individual – and may question their “emotional toughness” or tolerance for stress. Let’s face it. There are some situations where crying is just bad for your image and can be damaging.

    - When does crying become a real problem? Sure, most of us have felt like crying after we’ve received bad feedback or had a particularly horrible day. But if an employee cries at seemlingly inappropriate times (for example, he makes a typo or she spills her coffee) and it happens frequently, there might be an underlying issue.

    - What can tears tell you? I recently had a client, a sales manager, tell me about a new hire who was a terrific salesperson. She was blowing away her numbers in the first few months on the job. Yet when the manager did her ride-alongs with the rep in the field, she found that the rep would cry before and after every customer call. When the manager asked the rep why she was crying, the rep said, “I’m terrified of making calls. I feel sick to my stomach before I make every call…and then I feel so relieved after the call, I feel sick again!” Needless to say, this rep’s crying betrayed an underlying, serious issue – she hated her job even though she was great at it.

    Crying at work may be gaining some acceptance…but I wouldn’t yet say there’s a crying revolution at work. Like any other expression of emotion (yelling, laughing loudly, cursing) – there’s a right time and right place. And some very wrong times and places.

    © 2006 The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved.
  • 2 Comments to “Is it OK to Cry at Work?”

    • krennie004 on October 9, 2008

      I SOOO relate to this story!!! I’m in the EXACT same boat as Liza. No matter WHAT I do, when I get angry, frustrated (especially), sad (of course), stage-frightened etc, I immediately burst out into tears! I’m 22, and I’ve tried my whole life to control it, but it’s just not possible. I’ve gotten over the stage-fright a bit, but to do so I have to tell myself for at least 1 day ahead of time, over and over again, like a chant, that “I can do this”.

      I recently broke down crying in front of my new boss (twice in a span of a week or two) during performance reviews as well. And, she would tell me I was doing a good job, but at the same time, she makes me feel like I’m 2 foot tall, and 2 years old making me feel like I can’t do anything right (hence the tears). I will admit, BOTH times, she made me take a break after I started crying, and I was COMPLETELY humiliated.

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!

    • Anonymous on June 12, 2009

      I was just laid off of work. The whole plant closed down so I wasn't singled out. But when people at the other plant asked why I wasn't relocated to that plant my former boss said that I made too much money and I cried too much. Now I worked for them for 17 years and I cried on the job twice. And it was over 10 years ago. But that is what stuck in his head. I would say that no- it is never OK for a woman to cry on the job.

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