The Facebook CEO says it herself: it’s OK to cry at work! In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells us that she sometimes cries at work: "I consider that we are all emotional creatures and it's great to share emotion at work".
According to a survey published in It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace by business journalist and author Anne Kreamer, 41% of women admit to have ever cried at work, compared to 9% of men interviewed. The cause is cultural but also biological: women would have 6 times more prolactin than men in their body - a hormone linked to crying - and also have smaller tear ducts. For this American journalist, women do not feel they can express their anger at work: their irritation ends up coming out in the form of tears.
women would have 6 times more prolactin than men in their body - a hormone linked to crying - and also have smaller tear ducts.
Men or women, we tend to believe that tears make us look bad at work. But tears are an emotional reaction like any other, and crying in the office is not a tragedy. How can we better cope with emotions in the workplace? What to do if you are about to cry? Or if you see a colleague crying? Here are some practical tips for dealing with the situation.
What to do if you are about to cry at work
Crying is a natural response to stress, an unpleasant surprise or disappointment. We cannot be absolutely consistent from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 7 pm, so there is no shame in expressing vulnerability in certain situations, at certain times. However, we can learn to better manage possible reactions to stay in control of the situation. When you feel the tears coming :
- Take a break. Take a walk and take a deep breath. Propose solutions, don't be afraid to say you need to clear your head, it will make you stronger: "I don't know why, but this subject is stressing me out. Would you mind if I go outside to clear my head? I'd be happy to talk to you about it later, though.” This break will allow you to stop holding back tears and express yourself.
- Take a step back, so that you don't rush into things. Discuss your point of view with those around you, your family and friends, people outside the office: they will help you put things into perspective, understand why this situation is affecting you. Also talk to your colleagues: maybe you are not the first one to cry in front of this manager. You may be facing a toxic manager and you’re not the one to blame.
- If you feel you want to cry all the time, talk to your manager. If you cry often, it may be a sign of burn-out, or that you are exhausted. Take this seriously to protect yourself and ask for support. Burnout affects one executive out of two, according to a 2019 survey by Cadremploi.
- If you know that you are a very emotional person, anticipate what you can anticipate. Prepare for annual reviews, write down what you want to say to your manager, so that you don't get overwhelmed by emotions. This exercise will prevent you from feeling frustrated or will help you stay in control
How to react if one of your colleagues cries
If you see someone in your team or a colleague crying, try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask how you can help, what do they need, want? Does he or she want to talk, be alone, get some fresh air? Avoid the simple "Cheer up!", but try to be empathetic and show that you care and are here to help.
If you are a manager and one of your team members has developed a habit of crying regularly, suggest a meeting to discuss and find the cause of the problem. If the team member you are dealing with is going through a bad period, be servant and curious. What event tends to trigger the tears? Is it the behavior of someone in the team, a way of working that is blocking him or her? Or is it more a personal issue not related to work? What can you, as a manager, do to make his life easier? Look for solutions together. Once the subject has been discussed, continue to inquire about your team member’s state of mind in order to support him or her in the medium term. Make regular check-ins on Popwork to organize meetings and topics in advance.
Finally, remember that crying is not a sign of weakness. It can be a sign of distress (to be taken seriously), but it can also be a spontaneous, uncontrolled, simply temporary reaction that occurs at a moment of stress. It is human not to always hide one's emotions! A hashtag has even been created on Twitter: #IveCriedAtWork . Many Internet users have shared their experiences of crying at work, to better manage their emotions at work.