It was in late January, a very cold and late Friday night, with Christmas lights still sparkling, and snow slowly falling onto the windows that I cried like a baby on my 4th office floor. Yes, I cried at work.
I was alone, and the entire floor was filled with darkness. The only light sources were my monitor, and the very fatigued, not at all in Christmas spirit Christmas tree. It even curved at the top, and the ornaments were constantly falling off.
I felt embarrassed and seen but in a rather bad way. As if my bosses and higher-ups could see me then and there, as being highly unprofessional and, well, childish. I felt like they were all watching and laughing, or rolling their eyes.
It was a very corporate job, with no creativity or soul to it. Just endless spreadsheets, procedures, and less than friendly meetings. It was good money, but tiring. Extremely tiring.
I remember coming home every night, completely exhausted, both mentally and physically. I was unhappy. And my dissatisfaction with work has influenced my whole life. I was stressed all the time, and I’m surprised I didn’t cry more often, to be honest. I felt like my 12-year-old self, Googling how to not cry during an argument and so on.
It got me thinking, how many of my colleagues, in any company, are crying because of work stress, silently for no one to see? How many of them have cried in bathroom stalls and silent floors, all while putting up a happy front?
And lastly, why on earth did I see my crying as something unprofessional? God forbid someone saw me, then I’d have to justify that “unprofessionalism” and be seen as weak for the rest of my career.
My question is, why is something so natural seen as weak? Is it okay to cry at work? Let’s unpack.
Is crying at work unprofessional?
If you are aware of your emotions, and if you allow them to take place within your body and mind, with healthy processes and coping skills, you just might end up thinking that crying at work is no more embarrassing than taking a break.
I cried because I hated the place I worked at. As simple as that. I didn’t like my day-to-day duties, as they were mindless button-pressing with no thought put into it. I didn’t like the people, they were cold and not very friendly, minus a few. And most importantly, I didn’t like who I became during my off-hours.
Sometimes, we are unable to boil a situation down to common sense when we’re in the middle of a fight or flight response. That consistent internal pressure tends to fog our minds with nothing but negative and intrusive thoughts, that can only worsen the situation at hand.
“My boss yelled at me and I cried. What if someone heard me, and what if they fire me because of this? I know I hate this job, but I still need it.”
That exact confusion is what’s making us believe that we are wrong no matter the step or direction we take. As if everything we do is wrong and shameful.
I’ve never seen anyone else cry at work, therefore, what I’m doing now is embarrassing and completely out of pocket. However, what I neglected to observe during this great fog is that many people have most likely cried, at the same desk too, many times. They, just like me, have done it alone, in silence, and for no one else to see. Most likely, thinking the same thing as I did.
Women being stereotyped at work
The reason I mention women separately is due to the fact that many offices, managers, and higher-ups can look at a woman crying at work and think she is even more “incompetent” than they initially thought. Or more specifically, less competent than her male colleagues. Excuse my direct expression, but I’ve seen it happen with my own two eyes. I’ve even overheard it:
“Women, crying over nothing probably. They should do what they’re paid for instead.”
A lot of my fellow colleagues would agree that they have once or twice in their careers feared being seen as too emotional in the workplace. And if a woman is seen as very emotional, she is also seen as someone who is unable to make clear-headed decisions, to benefit her work. With all the emotions clouding her intelligence and common sense, you know?
I don’t even want to mention the hateful comments she would get from certain male colleagues. Jokes that are “all in good fun”, while no one is laughing.
It’s an old and quite frankly tiring stereotype and can be very hurtful to young businesswomen who hear and are influenced by stories like that.
Compassion amongst colleagues
When we’re in the middle of this idea that everyone would judge us because we have cried at work, we often forget that almost everyone we know has gone through a similar experience in their own life.
When we feel negative emotions such as sadness, fear, or pain, we really do tend to forget how not alone we are, no matter how hard certain situations seem to be. People have gone through what you’re going through before you, and they most certainly will after you as well.
If a conversation with your mom or friend who is completely outside of your work circle isn’t helping, try confiding with a colleague then. Someone who understands what you’re dealing with on a deeper level, but can still put their two objective cents in. Who knows, maybe they have shared the same pain as you, or are even going through it as I’m writing this.
Please remember that what is human is what is shared. People won’t judge you as much as you think they will.
How to respond with reason instead of emotion
Let’s say you’re having one of those days in the office, and you just can’t seem to engage in arguments or critical conversations with your colleagues or boss. Here’s what to say:
- I’m so sorry to do this, but I’m really not in the right state of mind to be having this argument with you. Can we please talk tomorrow? Thank you for your understanding.
- I’m ashamed that I had such a defensive reaction while we were talking, and I wanted you to know that I really appreciate the feedback you shared with me and that I’m working on implementing it.
- Thank you for letting me know about this. Can you please leave all the files on my desk or send them to my email and I’ll look through them as soon as I can, so that I’d be of more help the next time we talk. Thanks.
- I just wanted to apologize for being down and unattentive yesterday. It’s been a rough week and I hope you understand. However, I’ve looked through all of the data this morning and am ready to fill you in on all the numbers for our meeting today.
Be respectful and honest with your work environment, boss and colleagues. You’d be surprised how supportive some of them can be, especially if you fill them in on why your behavior has been a bit down lately.
Make sure to let them know where you stand and continue with your work as best as you can.
Finding happiness in your career
I know what it’s like to feel stuck, career-wise. You are at this job some people would kill for, but you are unhappy and stressed. The money is good, sure. But at what cost, and more importantly, at whose expense?
You have to fill out some pros and cons, there’s no other way around it. And if you can’t stand the place you are in right now, best believe that the experience you’ve gained during your stay will help you go elsewhere.
There’s nothing wrong with changing your job, career path, or major, no matter how far you’ve gone with it. If it’s making you unhappy, it’s never too late for change. Remember you are doing this for yourself and no one else!
It is absolutely okay to cry at work, feelings don’t pick and choose when to strike, and you should never hold them back too harshly. But just because crying is okay, doesn’t mean you have to stay in that unhappy place. You have the right to change your reality for as long as you wish to.
The bottom line is this: to cry is okay, but to seek change is even better.