Crying at Work Can Be Beneficial

But only if you do it the right way


Judith Valentijn

3 years ago | 5 min read

The accusations were so ridiculous that they didn’t worry me at first. The idea of me selling data to a competitor was almost laughable until I noticed that I couldn’t access my email and client files anymore.

After a couple of failed login attempts, I got a call from my manager’s manager. She was angry and demanded answers. I tried to defend myself, but she didn’t listen and summoned me to the main office for a meeting.

I was already on the brink of crying when I walked into the building. This situation was unfair and mean, and if I couldn’t convince them of my innocence, I would have to deal with some nasty consequences.

The meeting started hostile. And within two minutes, I could feel the tears rolling down my face. I was mortified. When I cryingly explained the impact the accusations had on me, the atmosphere changed. Thanks to my display of emotions, her anger and confusion dissipated, and we were able to talk in a respectful and open manner.

I was sure crying would ruin my case. Crying at work is frowned upon in my circles, which is odd because we can’t leave our emotions at the parking lot when we clock in.

We deal with so much stress and spend so much time at work, that crying becomes almost inevitable. And if you have been struggling to hide your tears, I have good news for you. Crying at work can actually be beneficial, and most CFOs don’t have any issues with it.

How crying at work can be beneficial

There are four main reasons why we cry at work:

  1. We are going through something personal like a break-up or death of a loved one
  2. We are getting critical feedback from our managers
  3. We have difficulties dealing with the daily stress levels
  4. We are in a heated meeting, either with co-workers or customers

Shedding a tear when you’ve just had bad news is normal. Crying white-hot tears of frustration because a co-worker keeps sabotaging you, is normal too. And most of the time, your co-workers’ first response will be compassionate.

In this article, crying expert, Dr. Peggy Drexler says: “People tend to connect with what they view as an authentic display of emotion. An outburst of tears can result in a healthy and productive airing out of a situation that has long been festering.”

She also says: “Crying at work can be a powerful tool if both employees and employers learn to recognize that most emotion at work stems from frustration and not sadness.”

Crying at work might feel awkward or embarrassing, but when you have a good reason to cry, the uncomfortable feelings will soon pass and clear the way for healthy communication.

It is nearly impossible to have an open conversation while forcing yourself to hold in your tears. It limits you in sharing what you really think and feel because you might be scared to start crying if you do talk. The results? You don’t air everything out, and things will keep festering.

Crying at work isn’t such a no-no as you might think

Because we can’t turn off our humanity, crying at work happens to a lot of us. According to the research in Anne Kreamers’ book It’s Always Personal — Emotion in the New Workplace,” 41 percent of women and 9 percent of men have cried in the workplace. Adding those numbers means that half of us have shed a tear at work at least once.

The reason why you haven’t seen half of your co-workers cry is that it happens mostly in private. When you get bad news, you escape to the restroom, and during an unfair performance review, your co-workers usually aren’t present.

The half of us that cries at work is hardly ever judged for it. According to this study, 74 percent of CFOs are fine with employees crying at work. The remaining 26 percent said that crying is never acceptable at the office — hopefully, the 50 percent of ‘non-criers’ work there.

This study proves that the weird myth that crying at work is always frowned upon is not true. Instead of having a tense conversation with your manager or co-worker, release your frustration and let your tears make room for a constructive conversation.

There is however a wrong way to cry at work

Professor Kimberley Elsbach researched how women are treated after crying in the workplace. The good news is that most women were treated neutrally because their co-workers felt their tears were justified. The bad news is that Professor Elsbach and her team also found many cases of women who were penalized for crying at work.

Some women were perceived differently by their co-workers because of their tears. They were seen as manipulative, unprofessional, or weak because they cried. Some women even had to look for a new job because their altered image prevented them from getting a promotion.

Her research shows that there are actually rules for crying at work. Crying at work shouldn’t have negative consequences if you stick to these rules:

  • Keep it private. Crying in front of a group is judged harshly. Excusing yourself when you feel you can’t keep it in any longer is less frowned upon. Especially if you return with a short apology and pick up where you left off.
  • Don’t let it derail the conversation. Tearing up when you get harsh feedback is normal. But if the feedback isn’t getting through to you because you are too distraught to listen, you will be judged more harshly.
  • Share information when something bad has happened. If you get a phone call at work and start sobbing hysterically, everybody will forgive you if they learn you’ve just been informed of someone dying.
  • Make sure it is justified. What makes you cry is different for every person. Having a quick cry in the stockroom after a customer yells at you is perceived as justified. Bursting into tears because somebody didn’t respond to an email quickly enough might be unjustified.
  • It is an exception. If you cry during every meeting or lock yourself in the bathroom on a weekly basis, there is something very wrong. Either you work in an incredibly toxic environment, or you have some issues to sort out.

We cry because we care

Often when we cry, it is because we care. I took my job very seriously, which is why the accusations were so hurtful. I would never do anything to hurt my clients or the company intentionally.

Or as career advisor, Alison Green says: “I think there’s an interesting connection between conscientiousness and crying at work. If you’re really invested in your work and care deeply about doing a good job, you’re more likely to experience the sort of disappointment or frustration that can result in teariness.

And of course, employers want us to be engaged in our work and to care deeply about it — and it’s hard to do that but also be detached enough that you never have a strong emotional reaction.”

In the end, I got cleared of all accusations. Not because I cried, but because my innocence was easily proven after a short investigation. My tears made the process easier and more compassionate, though.

So the next time I feel the urge to cry at work, I’m not stopping it. And neither should you.

We are humans, after all, not machines.

Originally published on medium.


Created by

Judith Valentijn







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