Crying in the Workplace

about 1 year ago by Sophie Stones

Crying in the Workplace


The workplace has changed and is changing. At the forefront of this change is the higher importance employers are putting on employee mental health. With schemes rolled out around the country, employee wellbeing is slowly but surely becoming a necessity rather than a perk. However, whilst in the wider community expressing emotions is now being encouraged, when it comes to work, keeping a straight face and a stiff upper lip is still the expected.

In the professional realm, most of the conversation around emotions center around shame, and advice around curbing outward displays, however there is little discussion around a much healthier strive towards acceptance.

Very rarely are emotional outbursts career killers, however we do seem to have more of a tolerance for angry shouting than for crying. Anger still reflects feelings of masculine dominance; however, crying is seen as weak. In fact, 70% of both workers and CFO’s agreed that “crying is okay from time to time, but doing it too often can undermine career prospects” or that “crying is never okay at work – people will perceive you as weak and immature”, meaning that the best you can hope for is a neutral outlook. Contrastingly however, 2/3rds of men believe that displaying anger is an effective management tool.  

Crying, like sweating, is a physiological reaction to a situation, and unfortunately science says it’s more likely to affect women than men. Biologically producing 50-60% more prolactin than men, a hormone related to crying, women also have smaller tear ducts, meaning whilst a guy might get watery eyes, for a woman they’ll already have begun streaming down her face.

Unfortunately, this could be hampering career progression, as a Harvard Business Review article found male Managers were so afraid of tears that they weren’t giving out the vital feedback that was needed for progression. However, whilst 41% of women do admit to crying at work in the past year (9% for men), rarely is it public.

Crying can have positive effects, as whilst anger simply passes the problem to another employee, crying is often introspective, allowing for self-reflection and resolution, something Susan David (Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life) says we should focus on, rather than the shame that often comes shortly after; “treat your outburst for what it is: data”.

These antiquated views surrounding emotions within the workplace must change, as our lives become more intertwined with work. We spend more time currently with our work pals than we do our own families, so to expect our personal persona to be entirely separated from our professional is incredibly unrealistic. Anne Kreamer (It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace) says that luckily change is on the horizon “since the recent study of emotion, we’re beginning to understand that the old-school sense of the workplace as rational and everything outside it is appropriate for emotions couldn’t be more wrong.”