Who the Heck Cries at Work Anyway? Geez!

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect


Story: JiJi Lee, a New York comedian, contributed a very funny and poignant article in the Nov. 9 New York Times regarding where the heck one goes to cry in an open office environment. The following are a few “best” cry zone places Lee suggests:

“At your desk with your headphones on: The trick is to release your tears one at a time. Tears are a dead giveaway that you’re doing crying stuff and not work stuff.

At Ravi’s standing desk: The dry cleaning he’s always hanging on it will provide partial coverage. Plus, crying at a sit/stand desk is so much better for your posture.

By the water cooler: Boost collaboration with your co-workers by taking turns to openly weep. They might hesitate at first, but remind them it’s easier to cry in person than via email.

Behind your succulent: Sure, the company removed all the walls but at least it added Instagram-worthy décor. The company will be thrilled that you’re getting so choked up over its long-term investment in plants.

Into your poke bowl: Pretend you’re crying about the appropriation of Hawaiian food culture and not the disintegration of autonomy in the workplace.

The restroom: This is where everyone goes to cry. Anticipate long lines.”

Key Point: I’m from a generation where crying at work was generally frowned upon as a sign of weakness. And there certainly was, and perhaps still is gender bias regarding crying being more common and maybe even more acceptable for women. I’m not an easy crier, and yet over 40+ years I’ve had an occasional good bawl at work. A couple of situations have been based on sheer joy, the last being when my team brought in a choir to serenade my retirement. At others, it’s been due to some real personal stuff just accumulating and I couldn’t hold in any longer. On one occasion it was essentially an open space office (my office was totally see through glass), and I probably used a half box of tissue. I could tell from the eyes in the back of my head that colleagues were very uncomfortable. They didn’t know whether to console me, or pretend they didn’t see me. And during my many years as an executive leader, I can assure you almost everyone of my direct reports teared up to the “kleenex level” with me at least once; male and female. (I’m not proud to note that sometimes my demanding expectations caused this reaction). On every sports team I’ve played, including with the toughest athletes, there have been many tears shed.

Is this vulnerable behavior a sign of weakness? My understanding is that there’s is not one bit of empirical evidence that vulnerability is connected to weakness. In fact, open vulnerability is a strength and necessary to be a truly courageous leader. Crying is an occasional subset of being vulnerable, and I certainly don’t want to overstate the connection. Yet, I think it is worth asking when the last time you had a good cry at work? Tim Herrera, who edits the Smarter Living newsletter for the NYT asked this question as a lead in to an instructive article on the subject. Herrera notes: “What we need to realize, however, is that really it’s not a big deal: Just under half of employees have cried at work at some point, according to a study from earlier this year, which also found that about 75 percent of C.F.O.s surveyed thought crying every so often is totally normal.”  Maybe the number should be closer to 100 percent?

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. If you are going to be an evolved leader, your authenticity is vital. This means being very human and subsequently shedding occasional tears may be part of your experience. Acknowledge your emotions and let people appreciate that you are vulnerable. This helps people appreciate that at times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we are ALL very vulnerable, including you. It’s important to be real.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Model that it is ok for people who work for or with you to shed their coat of armor, which occasionally may involve tears and/or a darn good cry. Be empathetic, compassionate and understanding when your team members show that emotion. Do NOT be patronizing, judgmental and/or stupid. Expunge any thinking that that person is weak. It is a myth.

Note: Occasional crying is normal. When someone is very emotional on a recurring basis, we likely need to offer that teammate help that most often includes professionals beyond our personal expertise.

Ok crying in Personal Leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: Hey let’s face it, the stigmatism against publicly crying has not really progressed since the “Mad Men” days, and I’m guessing that has to do with human nature. It can be awkward for all parties, especially when you just work together. Many female colleagues or friends I know have admitted to retreating to a bathroom to occasionally cry, and in all honesty, if a male co-worker shed tears at the office then people auto-assume a loved one has just died. Biased? Yes. Fair? No. I think at work, of all places, we hope things run smoothly. Ideally, leaders hope they don’t make people cry, we Millennials hope we don’t screw up bad enough to feel like crying, and in either case tears signify something went really awry. The rule isn’t “there’s no crying at work,” but sobbing shouldn’t be scheduled on your Google calendar either. If it is, that truly is a sad place to earn a paycheck.  

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis