First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Is It Okay to Cry at Work?
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Readers debate the question and share their own stories. Let loose via

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A reader complicates the discussion:

I’m a woman, and I’ve cried at work at least on three different occasions. Here’s the thing, though: I have severe mental illness that often makes the stress of a full-time job unbearable. Sometimes I have been so miserable that I was fantasizing about driving my car off the road on the way to work, but I still had to go, because 1) most of the jobs I’ve held thus far did not offer paid sick/vacation time, and 2) I could not seek ADA accommodations because I know how often mentally ill people are stigmatized or punished for asking for them. It’s ludicrous that so many companies actively block their female employees’ ability to address their personal, emotional, and professional challenges and then punish them when they crack under the pressure.

Another reader provides a link that could benefit readers who struggle with crying at the office:

In our growing discussion about crying at work, a female reader references a previous one:

Only someone severely unstable or dramatic would cry over their perfume being mistaken for pesticide. Really? I wish I had so little to cry about.

The only time I cried at work: My boss had just told me that the company was going under and none of my coworkers knew. I was going to lose the only job I’d had for the past 11 years, a job I loved. I went AWOL for the worst of it, but my coworkers weren’t stupid; I disappeared and then came back an hour later with a puffy face and red eyes, in a sullen mood. If you can’t take the whole day off, you don’t really have a choice but to cry—if not at work, then near work, and to trust your coworkers not to intrude or think you unprofessional, especially if it is something really upsetting.

This reader’s comment was the most up-voted one from Olga’s piece:

One thing that always confuses me about articles like this: Where do people get this idea that angry men are rewarded in the workplace?

This reader makes the most important distinction, I think, in the debate over crying at work:

I really appreciate these curated conversations, thank you. To the woman who said:

I really despise seeing [crying] at work. Unless something just absolutely devastating happened personally (then go home and take care of it), then NO.

I say, you are without understanding and I will restrain myself from using stronger language to describe your unkind attitude. Crying for some is a completely involuntary reaction to stress. Whenever it happened to me, I HATED that I was crying and was FURIOUS with myself for the tears welling out of my eyes. My rational mind was completely divorced from the physical reaction and trying to hide it and re-gain control of my tear ducts as fast as possible, all the while trying to assure anyone around that I really am not as upset as I appear and simply cannot help it for the moment.

One of the few benefits of aging and menopause is that I no longer tear up as readily as in the past, so I presume hormones have something to do with it. But it should NOT be automatically assumed that it is always a measure of distress or a ploy for sympathy.

However, there’s surely a distinction between welling up and sobbing; the former is involuntary and the latter is much less so—except, perhaps, when it comes to Smiley the Blind Therapy Dog or Lil’ Brudder:

Olga, in a video accompanying her article about shedding tears at work, talks with colleagues around the office and ends with a professional actor:

A reader shares his own story:

Once I “had” someone cry at work. We had an ant problem in the office and I asked her to call the pest control company. The next day I got into the office late morning and immediately started gagging from the overpowering smell of pesticide. I asked her to call the company back to confirm if we needed to vacate the office from the powerful chemicals. To my embarrassment the company hadn’t been there yet and the smell was her perfume.

I felt terrible. So did she, because she cried.

This is an example where I inadvertently insulted her new perfume, thereby insulting her. So crying was okay. And you are darn right I felt uncomfortable. Have you ever tried to apologize to someone while she is washing her wrists with a lemon scented wet wipe? Awkward.

I gave her a plant the next day. We laugh about it now.

This reader is less sympathetic:

As a woman, I really despise seeing this at work. Unless something just absolutely devastating happened personally (then go home and take care of it), then NO. It’s unprofessional no matter what. I’ve worked in some dire environments (read end-of-life atmosphere, and sometimes under tragic circumstances), but you should still be able to show compassion or care without crying.

Disagree? Drop us an email.