Here’s the Thing About Crying at Work
Learnings from a certified cry baby
Let’s talk about~*feeling*~ your feelings in the workplace.
As a general emotional and expressive person, I have the tendency to cry. Whether mad or overwhelmed or even happy — there’s me, crying. This fun personality trait has made many of my colleagues across greater North America and beyond uncomfortable more than once. Before I share my learnings I will say this — I have never once regretted crying at work.
In general, crying gets a bad rap. I mean no one loves crying. Do I start my day thinking today would be an excellent day to cry on Zoom? No. But, hey, it happens to the best of us. For better or worse we all feel emotions, some of us more than others (me). Showing that kind of expression so unabashedly makes people uncomfortable — I once ugly cried in front of an entire all-male sales team. They are probably still traumatized by the showcase of my emotions but did it get my point across? Sure did.
There is no end to “self-help” articles or Quora questions about why crying makes people uncomfortable or what to do when someone cries but it wasn’t until recently that corporate America started making space for emotions like crying in the workplace.
In fact, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. This is an expert from an article written in 2008 called There is no crying in the workplace, it states:
“…welling up at work often is associated with failure to handle a curveball or problem-solve during a tough predicament, incapacity to manage your workload, oversensitivity, irrationality, and even incompetence. It can be detrimental to your chances of climbing up the ladder toward an executive presence.”
The Reality Check
Granted the article referenced above was written well over a decade ago but I can’t help but think this sort of attitude is what got corporate America into the white cisgender toxic masculinity cesspool that we are so desperately trying to dig ourselves out of today. Don’t get me wrong there have been a lot of positive steps taken toward inclusion and diversity in recent years but the fact this rhetoric of showing emotions in the workplace makes you incompetent was even a thing, to begin with, is total bullshit.
As a woman who came up through the tech industry and worked with predominantly male-dominated sales teams — I have seen this particular scenario play out time and time again. It is one where if a male gets emotional his feelings tend to be expressed in a loud and angry fashion. He is passionate and a leader who stands up for himself. In the same situation, a woman who expresses herself in the same way or if you’re like me — through tears — is irrational and needs to calm down.
I have straight up been told by a male senior executive once that “my attitude [was] unbecoming” when I pushed back on his unreasonable demands of me. Would he ever say this to another man? Absolutely not.
There is a double standard and that’s the reality of emotions in the workplace. But don’t let it stop you from showing up as your most authentic self.
Here’s the thing — if your company, your coworkers, and your leadership team truly respect you and value you as an employee they will make space for you to show up as your most authentic self to do your job. Even if you cry sometimes. I’m not saying you should open the floodgates in every situation — if you’re crying about every frustration at work there is probably something else going on.
The fact is the lines are so blurred between work and personal life today. I have worked for a lot of start-ups in recent years and that comes with some hefty expectations — you gotta hustle. That means long hours, late-night pings, and getting shit done at all costs. If work is going to bleed over into my personal life, I expect my personal life to bleed over into my work life. That looks like having a therapy appointment in the middle of the day on Tuesdays and yes, sometimes crying to my boss.
I have found that as I have become a senior marketer, my colleagues and leadership team have actually respected me more after I got emotional at work. It shows them I care — that I am passionate about what I do and the company I work for. In fact, if I don’t get emotional from time to time at work that’s a red flag for me because it means I don’t care and my time there is probably limited.
Emotions are one of the things that make us human — for better or worse. Use them to your advantage to make your voice heard and show your passion. Or at the very least use them as a barometer about how you feel about a given situation — in the workplace or otherwise. And to all my cry babies out there — tears are your superpower.