Cubicles for Cryers: Is Crying in the Office Letting Down Our Gender?

As a specialist who works with women in male dominated fields, I have heard my fair share of stories about crying on the job. That’s why I was so pleased to hear Women’s Hour tackle the issue of crying at work.

I was even more delighted to hear my good friend Vanessa Vallely, founder of being interviewed. Vanessa gave her impression about emotions running high across the city, and even spoke candidly about the times she had become emotional at work.

I recognised myself and many of my clients in her story of working all hours on a specific project away from her family for 38 days straight, only to be told she wasn’t getting the promotion she expected. She talked about what it felt like to receive that news;  “You  could almost hear me crack.”  Vanessa pointed out “excessive use of any emotion, anger, passion, tears…” was seen negatively in most companies.

She agreed with the host Jenny Murray, that women are much more likely to get negatively labeled “emotional” rather than “passionate” which is a more respectable term for the same set of behaviours. They discussed research suggesting that most women felt if they cried at work, they were letting down other women.  They worried they were pandering to the stereotype of working women as highly strung and too sensitive at work.

While it is never advisable to get a reputation for being a cryer or “overly-sensitive”, I think crying has been over-criticised as a career killer. I think that while crying probably is best done behind closed doors when at work, it shouldn’t be held against someone. If anything, it just displays how strongly they feel about a decision an much they care.

My coaching clients invest an inordinate amount of time and mental energy to their careers. They love what they do and are always striving to get better. They read on their subject, confer with colleagues, often give up their evenings and weekends to their career. When they have a knock, it’s only human to take it hard. To tell them “not to take it personally” is unrealistic and dismissive of their dissapointment.

On the bright side, a unexpected benefit to a wee cry in the Ladies is how you can often find support from those you don’t know, but who recognise the struggle and reach out. A client I’ll call Sarah, once told me how in breaking down in a cubicle after an argument with her new boss, she escaped to the loo but ran into a colleague, Moira, in another team who reassured her that Sarah’s boss was a ‘known idiot”.

Sarah said ” Just hearing he had that reputation made me realise I couldn’t take it so personally, that others also found him difficult. Plus Moira and I began to have coffee every month and I still am in touch with her, sharing our crazy stories about work, four years later. She became an ally when I didn’t even know I was looking for one! For more tips on handling office politics click here.

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