I’m not quite a decade into my career and I know that I have cried on the job at least four or five times. Half were due to personal issues like sickness (I should have just stayed home, I know!) and the death of a pet.
The other few times was due to feeling overwhelmed while working on a very high-pressure contract out of state—an interview I cried during, no less!
Professional Boundaries Around Crying
As work life and personal life have become increasingly integrated, boundaries and social etiquette practices have continued to shift, like bringing your dog to work, going barefoot in the office (still gross!), and crying.
According to a study from Monster, crying at work is not uncommon.
Their poll of 3,000 workers found that 8 out of 10 people have cried at work. Bosses or co-workers were cited as the reason for tears at the office, according to 45 percent of respondents. Is it okay to show emotion and even cry at work? Absolutely. But if it’s happening often then it’s best to find the source of the tears or a new work environment.Only 19 percent of those polled who had cried said that personal, non-work issues were the reason for the tears.
More than 15 percent of people said they cried because of their workload, while almost 13 percent said they were upset about workplace bullying.
Is it okay to show emotion and even cry at work? Absolutely.
But if it’s happening every week—or worse every day—then it’s best to figure out the source of the tears or find a new work environment.
Take these points into consideration if you or a colleague are frequently experiencing waterworks.
Who Are You Surrounded By?
Is it your boss? Trusted colleagues? Understanding the people around you may determine the appropriateness of crying based on context alone.
For instance, there’s a distinction between breaking down in front of the CEO of your company because your cat died over the weekend or being overwhelmed by a verbally abusive boss. Before the tears start flowing, know your audience and use discretion to determine if it’s appropriate.
When the tears come, think back to the trigger that brought them in the first place.
If a mentor or work bestie can help you calm down and decompress about stresses, use a quiet corner of the break room—or better yet, take a coffee break and get out of the office.
Pro-tip: I once had a high school intern who found out—on Facebook of all places—that her grandmother had died. She was distraught and in no place to drive. I drove her home and arranged for her car to be picked up from our office later that day.
Emergencies happen. Have a transportation plan in place in your office in case a colleague has some kind of emergency. You never know who will need a ride home or to the hospital.
What Is Causing the Tears?
When the tears come, think back to the trigger that brought them in the first place. Was it because you were treated poorly by a boss or coworker? Were you unprepared for a meeting? Or was it rooted in jealousy from a colleague’s promotion? Was it a happy cry or did it stem from feeling sad or overwhelmed?
Determining the source can help you personally address if the cause is justifiable or not. Look back at the trigger to decide if the cause is work-related or irrelevant.
(And if it’s because you were watching a sad YouTube video, why are you internet surfing during work hours?)
Is It Work-Related or Personal?
Sometimes our own baggage can serve as a barrier when we let it affect our daily ability in the office.
If you are struggling with a personal matter, it may not always be appropriate to continue to resolve it while on the job.
However, there is power in being vulnerable when appropriate with your co-workers if something major is going on. If your issue is work-related, it may be time to have a conversation with your human resources department.
Is This a One-Time Breakdown or an Ongoing Concern?
We all have our days, and sometimes, work is challenging and can call for a big, ugly cry to let it all out. But when one cry turns into a regular occurrence, there may be some ongoing issues to address. Remember, crying at work is a personal decision that completely depends on your own level of comfort.
Though crying at work should not become a regular habit, an emotional release given the appropriateness of the circumstances can and should be acceptable. But when it becomes more frequent know that it may be time to ask for help either from human resources or a professional counselor or therapist.
Remember, crying at work is a personal decision that completely depends on your own level of comfort. If you are comfortable and justified in your tears and are actively seeking a resolution to what may have caused them, then more power to you.
Why It Matters
We spend a lot of time at work and most of us spend more time with our coworkers than our own families during the week. One of the biggest indicators of professional growth is learning to openly confront our feelings.
If we bury our feelings and run from conflict, not only does it undermine our work but it doesn’t help us grow professionally or personally.
"You might see tears from time to time, but I think that signals that the person cares about what is happening," Whitehurst said.
Red Hat CEO, Jim Whitehurst argued that expressing your feelings reflects your passion for what you do.
"You might see tears from time to time, but I think that signals that the person cares about what is happening," Whitehurst said. "Emotions at work can help you understand how others truly feel — that's a good thing."