Is Crying At Work Acceptable?

I have recently had quite a few people talk to me about staff members & colleagues crying at work, whether it is genuine or a perceived way of avoiding a difficult conversation. Although crying is said to be a way of releasing stress and being mentally healthy, is there a time and place for it and is crying in the workplace acceptable or unacceptable?

Because the rules of the workplace are constantly evolving, both employees and employers must determine what is considered appropriate behavior in their company climate. Anne Kreamer, author of its Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, found that in the past year, 41 per cent of women admitted to crying at work, but only 9 percent of men did.  Another recent study interviewed more than 300 workers and more than 250 chief executive officers to discover how crying at work is perceived. Thirty per cent of workers think crying is acceptable now and then, but when it is frequent, it can sabotage your future job prospects. On the other side of the issue, thirty-eight per cent of employees believe that crying is completely unacceptable and makes you seem weak to your coworkers and colleagues.

Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, said, “It creates this impression of need, that the person needs help. It’s almost like a baby crying — in that we’re programmed as human beings to react to crying in an empathetic way.” Elsbach continues, “While that’s perfectly acceptable in many circumstances, at work it’s seen as an intrusion: ‘At work, I shouldn’t be asked to provide emotional support.’”

It seems that workers 55 years old and older feel that crying has a negative impact on reputation than their younger colleagues. Over half of workers have admitted to losing their temper at work, with sixty-four per cent stating their emotional meltdown was directed toward a coworker. Another thirty-four per cent claim it was directed toward a manager.

Reasons People Cry at Work

There are acceptable reasons an employee might cry at work. In the following situations, no one would think you are weak if you cried at work (or they should not).

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Separation or divorce
  • Life-changing event like a sick child
  • Pregnancy
  • Anxiety or depression

On the other hand, there are totally unacceptable reasons for crying at work. These situations could be categorised as tactical crying.

  • Crying purely to get attention
  • Crying purely to manipulate, particularly If faced with criticism or disciplinary situations
  • Crying purely for sympathy

How to Deal with Crying in the Workplace

Regardless of why someone is crying at work, there are simple ways to handle it. Taking these steps will allow you to be compassionate and understanding, while uncovering whether the tears are real or tactical.

  • Tell them it’s okay to cry
  • Bring out the tissues
  • Give them a glass of water
  • Wait and listen

An employee/coworker who is genuinely upset and shedding real tears will try to stop crying quickly and will feel embarrassed. If they aren’t genuine and don’t try so quickly to stop crying they will probably reach the point of making it uncomfortable for themselves as they realise their tactics aren’t working.

Obviously, it is best to be kind and understanding no matter what the situation and work out what the real situation is.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts about crying in the workplace and what experiences have you had?

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