Is it OK to Cry at Work?

6 years ago

You're at the end of your rope - stressed, unhappy, maybe even going through a trying personal situation that can't help but affect your time at work. Would you cry at work? Or, would you stuff your emotions in an attempt to look professional and not rock the boat?

It always amazes me that this question is even, well a question. Meaning a workplace is a place made up of human beings. Humans have emotions, Workplaces can be stressful. Personal life happens. Why wouldn't you potentially cry at work?

Somehow we've gotten the notion that professional = robotic automaton. You come, you work, you detach from yourself. I know personally I was once told by a highly paid manager at a well-respected company that I should leave my personality at the door. Ouch! Yes it hurt then and it hurts just thinking about it now, years later, but at least I was clear. He didn't like who I was (harworking, humorous, strong leader, willing to set and enforce boundaries) and didn't know how to deal with it.

What spurred me to revisit this topic was the recent Time Magazine article "Go Ahead - Cry at Work". It is just another reminder that we've all had emotional experiences at work. It's just what we choose to do with them that is sometimes different. That is because protocol is so unclear and we tend to live in fear when it comes to our professional lives. This article states:

In the binary shorthand we use to compartmentalize modern life, we think of home as the realm of emotion and work as the place where rationality rules — a tidy distinction that crumbles in the face of experience. As management scholar Blake Ashforth has written, it is a "convenient fiction that organizations are cool arenas for dispassionate thought and action." In fact, in the workplace we are bombarded by emotions — our own and everyone else's. Neuroscientists have demonstrated over and over in empirical ways just how integral emotion is in all aspects of our lives, including our work. But since companies have generally avoided the subject, there are no clear protocols about emotional expression in the office.

We haven't given ourselves permission to be human in our professional lives and the workplace has failed us because as a rule people don't know what to do in the face of other people's emotions that make them feel uncomfortable.

Another way to put it is what Chaz Harris had to say about whether it is ok to cry at work:

I remember when I found out about my dad’s death, I was in the workplace at the Disney Store in our staff room on a lunch break and there is something odd about breaking down in tears around your colleagues. In a situation like that, self-awareness is gone and you don’t care who sees it, the emotion takes over and my knees buckled from under me. Luckily, many of them I knew well enough that they had become friends but most of them still seemed unsure what to do or how to handle it. People crying is just not something we really expect to see around the office, so when it does happen, it tends to create an odd atmosphere.

Bingo! You having emotion makes me feel uncomfortable and therefore it is "wrong". It isn't wrong, it's just that unless you are willing to stand in the face of emotion and allow others to have their experience (without your input, opinions, or attempts at "fixing it") you don't know what the heck to do. Most people haven't been taught how to stand in this space of personal power where you can bear witness to someone else's raw emotions without having to "do" anything about it.

Our own lack of awareness leads to weak leadership (regardless of whether your title says you're a leader or not, you ARE) and the illusion that we make fully rational decisions.

To complicate matters the rules are different based on gender. If a woman cries she is wracked with guilt and struggles with the backlash. If a man cries (even if it is just a welling up of the eyes) it is justifiable. Time reports:

Additionally, a woman's anger was attributed to her personality — "she is an angry person"; "she is out of control" — while men's emotional reactions tended to be seen as justifiable — "the work was shoddy" or "the report sucked." In this context, it's no wonder that more than 50% of women reported being angry at work during the past year — for the moment, there is simply no socially appropriate way for women to express legitimate anger in the workplace.

So, what is a person to do? I personally feel that we are meant to live this live fully human and that requires feeling. You just can't rationalize feeling. It takes courage to be who you are, a willingness to be engaged in your life (and that involves feeling!) and to forgive yourself when you feel less than "perfect". It is crucial we move toward a state where we can be ok in the face of emotions (our own and that of others) and greet them with a welcome mat instead of a bolted door. Now that would make for a kinder, more productive, and more compassionate world, on the job or off.

How about you? Have you ever cried at work? Have you stifled yourself to negative consequences later (like going home to kick the dog)? Would love to hear your experiences...

Paula Gregorowicz, The Intuitive Intelligence™ Coach
Download the Free Report: Your Own Uniqueness: The Path to Purpose, Prosperity, and Playfulness at

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