April 30, 2012
For crying out loud, don't shed tears at work
The conventional wisdom for both male and female employees when it comes to shedding tears in front of co-workers in the workplace: Don't do it.
Things can go wrong and difficult issues can come up at work, but most workplace experts agree that crying is not the best way to deal with job-related stress.
"Except for bad personal news, crying is perceived as over-emotional, and people who cry at work are perceived as being less together and less in control," syas workplace consultant Sally Mounts, president of Auctus Consulting Group, based in Washington, Pa.
"The best rule is fewer tears are better and no tears are best," she says. "In the workplace, perception is reality. Tears could lower a person's credibility despite their overall good performance."
While employees are expected to be passionate about their work, the workplace itself is opposed to common displays of emotion, be it yelling, loud swearing, stomping out of meetings or slamming doors.
Tears are the ultimate show of emotion and fall into a category of their own in corporate America.
"Choking up a little is OK, but full-blown crying will be uncomfortable to others because they won't know what to do," says Patricia Lenkov, president of Agility Executive Search in New York.
"You may have a problem at work, but it's never a good idea to let it all hang out," she says. "We have to maintain our composure if we want people to take us seriously."
There are some instances where crying at work may be more acceptable.
Natural disasters or getting bad news about a colleague becoming gravely ill or dying would not be considered a bad moment to break down.
Tragic personal events unrelated to job stress, such as a death in the family or a divorce, tend to also be more tolerable cases for crying as long as it's a one-time bawling event. If it continues over a long period of time, it could be problematic.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University who studied the effects of crying found that women cry four times more often than men, and men who merely tear up are viewed more positively than any other crier in any scenario they tested.
In fact, a strong male leader who gets emotional at a farewell party for a longtime employee at the company or a close personal friend may actually enhance his reputation by revealing his human side.
"When I grew up, a man didn't cry. Now it's more acceptable for a man to cry, which I think is a good thing," says Don Mazzella, chief operating officer at Information Strategies Inc., in Ridgefield, N.J.
But double standards concerning workplace crying persist, he says.
"When a man cries, the question is, 'Why is he crying?' When a woman cries in the office, the question is, 'Who made her cry?' Companies are always afraid of lawsuits."
Research found women cry more because of the way they are socialized at a young age to naturally show emotion, while boys are conditioned not to cry.
But as women move up in corporate America, many have found they must shed those tendencies to wear their hearts on their sleeve.
Jeff Nunez, division director of technology at staffing firm Robert Half International, says no matter what the gender, it's better not to cry in the workplace at all.
"My best advice would be to excuse yourself and go to a private office or restroom if you feel a cry coming on," Nunez says.
He says that someone who finds himself or herself crying frequently at the office might be allowing personal life to intrude on professional life.
If that is the case, the worker needs to maintain better boundaries, he says.
"You can perhaps think of your work world as a rest stop from your personal issues," Nunez says, "And give yourself permission to think of something other than your personal life."
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