What Happens When You Cry At Work

I cried at work today.

In the CFO’s office, no less. It was not a proud moment. In fact, once I started crying I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept coming even though, mentally I knew I 1.) needed to stop and 2.) understood the reality of the situation and how I DIDN’T need to be crying in the first place.

But there was not stopping the crying. I’d get myself under control for a second and then a flicker of a thought would spur on another bought of tears escaping down my face.   All the while, the CFO was trying to continue discussing healthcare plans with me as I apologized profusely for crying uncontrollably.

This isn’t the first time, I’ve cried at work. Actually it’s not even the first time I’ve cried in a public place. Some of my most mortifying memories include the multiple times I was overcome with tears in high school. And once, my freshman year in college, I had an office meeting with a particularly intense professor, and I started crying as we discussed one my first English papers as I grasped difference in the higher-level academic writing. But crying at work makes those other experiences pale in comparison.

Crying in high school, while embarrassing, is not really anything teachers or students haven’t seen before. I mean, all those hormones and angst? Tears are going to happen. Crying in college, definitely more taboo, but for a freshman, I feel professors are prepared for it even if they have less patience.

But crying at work. And being a woman and crying at work, especially when surrounded by male coworkers, now that’s an interesting experience.

The first time I cried at work, it was several months into my first full-time job, and my boss (who’s first management position it was as well) had NO idea how to handle it. He’d brought me into his office to talk about hours and told me at one point “Virginia is a right-to-work state. Since you’re salaried you pretty much have to work as much as I want you to.” after I had asked about adjusting hours since I was working far over 40 hours per week in preparation for an upcoming event. That statement triggered my tears even though I knew this was definitely not the place for them. And it also triggered my boss’ freak out. He literally said “I’ve never had a woman crying in my office before,” and was visibly uncomfortable.

Since then, I’ve had a few instances with my new manager where I ended up crying. But it was more because I was stressed, and this particular manager was incredibly understanding of the situation and didn’t even bat an eyelash at my tears. So those instances didn’t feel as embarrassing as that horrifying experience with my first manager.

This time, it felt different, unfortunately. This wasn’t a direct manager but an executive of the company so it felt doubly embarrassing when I just could not pull myself together. It was some awful combination of hormones, lack of sleep, and way too much stress from work and personal life that erupted into uncontrollable waterworks and apologies.

I hate crying at work. Sometimes it just can’t be helped, but that doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly embarrassed by it. But I’m not sure if I really should be. I obviously don’t disintegrate into tears all the time so when I do, I feel like you have to cut me some slack in the emotional department. But I still wonder if my male coworkers think less of me or take me less seriously because of it. Does it make me look weak? Does it make them think I can’t do my job?

The thing is, I’m not weak. I can absolutely do my job. And I shouldn’t be taken less seriously because of it. For me, the crying is just a part of life that I have to deal with, like a runny nose or hiccups. You don’t get a choice when those happen and you don’t have much control over stopping them. No one judges you for having the hiccups, right?

It makes me wonder though, do you judge people (particularly women) if they cry in public? Especially if it seems uncontrolled, unprovoked, or over something you don’t understand? That’s where my fear lies—in the unknown. But I supposed the best I can do is ask.

2 thoughts on “What Happens When You Cry At Work

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  1. I have the opposite experience from you, everyone at my work, aside from me, is female. I have witnessed most of them cry. Sometimes those tears were the gut wrenching, impossible to control, breakdown tears. Other times they were just tears of emotional expression running the whole gamut of feelings.

    Most of them have also seen me breakdown in tears, though it makes feel stupid for letting them fall. That I am being foolish. This is ironic because I don’t judge people for their tears, male or female, but I feel like I am judged when I cry by both male and female.

    There is a societal construct that says that men are not allowed to cry. That the expression of that type of sentimentality or emotion is distinctly unmasculine. When I was little, all of my friends told me that boys don’t cry, the male role models on TV and in movies reiterated that same message. It was okay to be loud and rude, to get in fights and argue, but heaven forbid you should feel pain.

    I wish I could say that these things didn’t affect me, but that would be a lie. The reality is that I recognize the bias and move past it to the best of my ability. I laugh at myself when I find myself in tears over an audio book I’m listening to at work, but I still hide the tears because I feel embarrassed. Though I do not feel ashamed of expressing emotion, I’m sure that embarrassment stems from those subconscious ideas.

    This is not to say that others don’t judge. I am sure there are plenty of men who judge women harshly for their expression of emotion, but I would hope it is an ever decreasing percentage. That first manager of yours seems like a likely candidate, though I imagine that it stemmed at least partially from guilt. (How awful would it be, to be the corporate shill that has to explain to their employee’s “If you don’t like being taken advantage of, you can leave.” So frustrating but totally a tangent.)

    Sorry, I got long winded… Long typed..?

    Where I was going, and I have no stats or anything like that, just my own anecdotal experiences, but I wonder if it isn’t more likely to be judged harshly for tears when you are male? This has always been my perception. I feel like it is not as bad today, as when I was younger but it’s still there.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that was true with all expression of emotion, but there are many things that are labeled as “feminine” that boys are just not supposed to do. In my experience when I have expressed these things I have been met with everything from uncomfortable situations and arguments, to outright hostility.

    I’m sure there are many things I have overlooked, but that is the human experience.

    Thanks for making this blog entry, it is a really interesting topic.


  2. I feel for you. It’s happened to me, too. Particularly, I don’t judge people who cry in public, probably because at one point that person crying in public was me. Lol

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