February 22, 2007
Is it OK to cry at work? Writing in her column for the Orange County Register, Michele Himmelberg says there is no simple answer to that question. In one camp are those who say workplace tears are acceptable because we're only human and hey, "stuff happens." Then there are those who feel that crying at work is utterly unprofessional and could be a career-killer, Himmelberg says. She points out, though, that whether tears flow or not is generally not a conscious decision. She notes, too, that tears actually can be healthful -- they are one of the body's ways of purging itself of excess chemicals and hormones released during times of stress or sadness. "The culture of your workplace will dictate what's appropriate and what's not," Himmelberg says. "A smaller staff or a family-type environment will be a lot safer place for tears than a corporate office." She cites the example of Linda Cowley, an executive assistant for a healthcare insurance provider in Irvine, California. Cowley was struggling with a difficult personal challenge and decided to share that with her colleagues, who are all women. "They were extremely supportive, especially when I cried," Cowley told Himmelberg. "They have all cried, too, at various times -- when the father of one died, when stress from travel was too much for another, when a client was being verbally abusive."
Cowley suggested three factors to consider in weighing the propriety of workplace crying:
- Do you know your supervisor and co-workers well enough to cry in front of them without negative repercussions? If not, it is probably better to excuse yourself to the restroom, take a walk, or even leave work "sick."
- Would clients or customers be exposed to your crying? If so, see the previous suggestion.
- It is generally more socially acceptable for a woman to cry in the workplace than for a man to do so, but when women cry, they risk being labeled with the stereotype of being "over-emotional."
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