Cried at work? You're not alone & you shouldn't be embarrassed.

crying at work

Cried at work? You're not alone & you shouldn't be embarrassed.

You’ve probably been there, you’re having a tough day, your colleagues are driving you mad and you get called into a meeting where your manager gives you some negative feedback; you feel the tears start to build up behind your eyes, your voice catches in your throat and before you know it you’re crying in front of your boss.

It’s not something anyone ever wants to do, but we’re human and sometimes the tears appear before we have a chance to stop them. You’re not alone though, over 40% of women say they have cried at work, compared to just 1 in 10 men, and women are more likely to feel crap after they’ve cried, whereas men feel better.

In spite of the cathartic physiological benefits, women who cry at work feel rotten afterward, as if they've failed a feminism test.” - Anne Kreamer

We shouldn’t take this as a reason to hold back the tears at work though, a study from author Anne Kreamer and ad agency J. Walter Thompson found that almost 70% of people think that seeing a colleague get emotional makes them seem more human.


This is echoed by one of the world’s most influential women. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg has admitted to crying at work, noting that we are not one type of person during our 9-5 and then a different person on the weekends; "I think we are all of us emotional beings,” she said in an interview, “and it's okay for us to share that emotion at work.”

In fact, biologically women are programmed to cry more than men, we have six times the amount of prolactin, a hormone related to crying. So really it’s not wonder we’re four times more likely to break down in tears at work than our male co-workers.

Don’t start crying at your desk on the daily.

Whilst having the occasional tear-up at work can help you seem more human and should be embraced as a normal and natural occurrence, you do have to put some boundaries in place.

“Crying is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of pain and can be very cleansing,” journalist Dana Canedy said on The Broad Experience podcast. “However, when you’re a woman at work there are many negative connotations to crying, so I would say don’t do it if you can avoid it.”

Where possible, find a private space where you can have a cry at work, nip to the toilets, take yourself on a walk or have a chat with a work friend. If a work situation has triggered the feeling of needing to cry, try and stay composed in the moment and hold the tears back for now.

Sometimes the tears can’t be held back, and that’s ok too.

What to do if you cry in front of your boss

Firstly, own it. It’s happening, it’s unlikely you can hide it or make it stop, so own the tears and try not to feel embarrassed. The awkward part about crying at work is that people don’t know how to react, if you’re owning it and showing that you’re not feeling embarrassed they’ll relax and won’t feel so awkward.

Excuse yourself. If you know that the tears aren’t likely to stop any time soon then take yourself out of the situation. Be upfront, tell your boss, colleagues or whoever is there that you need to take a moment and leave the room. Find somewhere where you can let it all out, once you’ve finished crying you can compose yourself and head back.

Finally, the aftermath. Don’t ignore it. You’ve cried in front of your boss, they saw it and there is no point pretending it didn’t happen, so address it, but don’t feel ashamed. Show confidence in your capabilities to control your emotions and explain to your manager that x, y and z upset you and you needed a moment to handle that. If it’s work related and something you can discuss then try and talk about it, or ask if you can come back to the topic at a later date.

The next time you feel the tears building remind yourself, crying is not a form of weakness, and it’s ok if I need to take some time away from my desk to handle this. And, although we’re led to believe crying can negatively impact us at work, 88% of workers feel that being sensitive to others’ emotions at work is an asset, so embrace your emotions, they make us who we are.

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