"It used to be that crying was akin to career suicide,” she writes. “But now, career experts agree that, when used judiciously, breaking down in the office just might help you climb the corporate ladder.”
In a radio interview earlier this week, former Daily Show writer and performer Wyatt Cenac described an ugly exchange between himself and his former boss, host Jon Stewart, that Cenac says left him sobbing.
While the situation sounded pretty meltdown-worthy to me, common wisdom says that crying in the workplace is seen as oversensitive, immature, and unprofessional. For women especially, there’s a fear that allowing our emotions to show in a professional setting plays into gender stereotypes — the reason, perhaps, why Forbes says that women should avoid it.
In a round-up of female leaders, the majority of women expressed this attitude that crying at work is something to be done very rarely if ever and only in private. We think it’s “awkward” and permissible only “if under extreme duress” or “in cases of a tragedy.”
Mika Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe on MSNBC pretty much summed it up when she said, “Every time I have cried at work I have regretted it.”
I wondered if men’s attitudes towards tears in the workplace were a lot different than women, who seem reticent to let it happen and regretful when it does, and so I asked a handful of dudes to tell me about the last time they cried at work and how they felt about it afterwards.
“It felt good”
Jonathan, a 26 year-old graphic designer, said the last time he cried at work was a couple months ago. “We had a pitch that didn’t go well and I cried in the restroom briefly afterwards,” he said. “It was the first project that I was leading. It was my time to shine. And the clients were being such a pain in the ass.”
Jonathan said he cried because he felt frustrated and under pressure.
“[The project] had to do with Hispanic Heritage Month, and I’m hispanic,” he said. “So they had put me in charge. They said, ‘He should get this, it will be easy.’”
When the clients hadn’t liked his concept, Jonathan says, “I felt like a failure. Like I was letting everyone down — not just my company, but my community.”
Jonathan’s remarks were not unlike sentiments expressed by Cenac, who said that as the only black writer on the set, he felt he had to “represent [his] community” and that it was his responsibility “to be honest if something seems questionable.”
It was after expressing the opinion that he found Stewert’s impression of then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to be racially insensitive, Cenac says, that his boss got defensive and began shouting expletives. Stewart told him to "fuck off” and said, “I’m done with you.” Cenac says he thought he’d been fired.
Both stories speak to the added pressures people of color face in the workplace — pressures that might lead to tears. Women as a gender may also face certain pressures in the workplace, which is perhaps some explanation for why women feel the need to cry in professional settings. To suggest “never, ever, ever crying at work” is dismissive of this reality.
While he’s comfortable crying in regular situations, Jonathan said that, like most of us, he tries to “stay professional” at work. Even so, Jonathan said, “[crying] felt surprisingly good. It felt good let it out.”
“It was natural”
Maurice, a 46 year old ESL teacher, also described the last time he’d cried as “a good thing.”
“I had one student,” he said, “she knew she wasn’t going to pass. In repeating the level, her brother and parents would be critical. It was a frustration for us both. During our meeting, when she started crying, I started crying, too. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t planned. It was natural. It was empathy.”
And how did it feel? “It felt OK,” he said. “Crying shows that you’re vulnerable. If I had just said ‘Shake it off,’ that would have felt so cold.”
“If someone’s crying at work, it’s because it’s their only outlet to release tension,” says Greg, age 30, a public school teacher. When people cry at work, Greg says, it’s because they’ve became “overwhelmed” or perhaps feel as if “they’re not meeting their goals.”
In other words, tears in the workplace are understandable, and in certain situations, it’s the appropriate reaction.
Crying means you care
Earlier this month over at the NY Post, Anna Davies asked, is it OK to cry at work? Davies comes to the basic conclusion, yes. “It used to be that crying was akin to career suicide,” she writes. “But now, career experts agree that, when used judiciously, breaking down in the office just might help you climb the corporate ladder.” According to Anna Davies, ideal workplaces strive for emotional intelligence and authenticity. You ought to cry when you care, she says. You also get a pass when everyone else is upset or when you’re going through a tough time. Experts advise we use “crisis” judiciously — that’s not just when we’re tired or feeling stressed out. They also say it’s not so great to cry when you’re angry or when you’ve been criticized — but I’d say there are exceptions to this rule. Cenac’s story is a prime example.
We women seem to think we’re the only ones crying, and we feel worse about it when we do. But there’s no need to feel bad or hold back. If you need to, go ahead and cry.