Big Girls Don’t Cry–On the Job!

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Do you or your co-workers cry on the job? If so, you need to stop. I know first-hand that work (no matter what kind you do) can be very stressful and upsetting and that stress, for most women, can easily translate into an emotional meltdown. I’ve also had my share of upsetting events that brought on the tears and can tell you that crying at work is not cool. Some people say that it’s important to be “real” and that in today’s pro-female work environments it’s ok  for women to show vulnerability. I agree. In some circumstances you shouldn’t be afraid to show your vulnerability, and should put your emotions out there, but I don’t think the place for that is at work in the form of crying.

Crying over professional matters is perceived as weakness and you don’t want that to be how you are perceived at work.

Notice I said, “over professional matters.” That is a critical distinction because I’m not saying that you can’t cry over personal matters that may occur at work. Let me clarify. For example, if you just had your end-of-year review and it was less than satisfactory, DO NOT break down and start crying in front of your boss or even in front of your co-workers. Just suck it up  and keep it moving. Go back to your office, desk, or cubicle and start working on your improvement plan! If you must cry, go to the bathroom, shed all the tears you want, wash your face, fix your mascara and head back to work with your chin up. On the other hand, if you get a call that your dad collapsed in the shower and has been taken to the hospital and your first response is to burst into tears, by all means go right ahead! If your co-workers surprise you with a birthday party or a baby shower, go ahead and shed a few tears of joy.  No one would fault you for that. (if they do, you work with cyborgs) However, they will fault you if every time they turn around you are crying over something or crying over nothing.

Yes, there are some very sensitive types who cry at the drop of a hat. I must admit, I’m one of them. I am the first to cry at sad scenes  or even very happy scenes in movies or books. I will cry during long good-byes.  I can and have cried simply because someone else is crying and I empathize with them.  However, I have learned that my extra-sensitive side has to be kept under wraps at work.

There are two reactions that people have towards criers at work: They pity them and think they are “cute” (as in puppy dog or kitty cat cute) and they think “Aww, poor Sarah. She’s always crying. She’s so emotional/sensitive/etc.” or they find criers extremely annoying. They think, “Good grief, there goes Sarah again. She’s always crying. She needs to grow up!” In either case, crying at work  is interpreted as a cry for attention (pun intended) and not exactly as flattering behavior..

The bottom line is that criers are not taken seriously. Is this a fair assessment? No? Not at all. Like I said, I cry easily too,  but as they say, a bit too often nowadays, “it is what it is” and unless you don’t want to be taken seriously at work, you’ll have to keep your tears in check.

What to do when you can’t hold it in

If you are in the middle of a workplace meeting or an occasion where coworkers are present when you feel the waterworks welling up, take a breath and excuse yourself to regain your composure and then attempt to address the situation without crying. If you can’t leave unnoticed, acknowledge that you feel very strongly about whatever the issue is and ask that you be excused. If you cannot rejoin the conversation without breaking down, don’t. Do so only if you can without crying.

Can you be emotional at work?  Absolutely! Women are emotional beings and I don’t advocate “acting like a man.” You can show your softer side. Just do it without the tears.


Have you ever cried at work? What happened? How  do you feel about crying at work? Let us know in the comment box below. No time to leave a comment? Please share, tweet and like this post–only if you did, of course=)





8 Responses to “Big Girls Don’t Cry–On the Job!”
  1. Kathy says:

    I am a total crier- but I have never cried at work for professional reasons! I cry so easily….but I agree with what you wrote about people not taking you seriously when you cry at work. It is just so hard to hold the emotion in sometimes! Great blog, as always! :)

    • Nicolette James says:

      Thanks Kathy!
      It is really is hard to hold back your emotions. And many times, it’s the emotions that get you. Sometimes, even anger can lead to tears. I have cried at work and it was a doozy! It was during my early days as chair, I was so angry with one one of my department members for something that she had done. I had to confront her about it (but I wasn’t really good at that type of confrontation yet–still working on it). When I finally did approach her about it and started going over the situation, I started to cry. I could not believe it! I was mortified and she was clearly uncomfortable. It was bad for both of us. The thing is I felt the tears coming and I should have just stopped (and excused myself to regain my composure), but I chose to continue (thinking I could make it through without crying, but I didn’t). It wasn’t a huge, huge deal because I did know her as a friend (which was part of the reason for why I was so angry because I thought if she were my friend she should not have done what she did as a colleague–especially now that I was her supervisor) Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson and have not cried since–at least not for professional matters. I cry over all kinds of sentimental stuff though! I’m still human and I think that’s ok, but I try not to make that a habit either.

  2. Ruth says:

    I once had a relatively harsh phone conversation with a colleague (my peer, not a subordinate in terms of the chain of command). She began to cry and hung up on me. Frankly, my already unfavorable perception of her worsened and I thought it was highly unprofessional. Hours later, she called to apologize, yet blamed me for making her cry. My response to her – “I think you are overly sensitive, this was strictly professional and not one bit personal”.

    • Nicolette James says:

      Hey Ruth,
      so would it be safe to say that even after her apology (although she blamed you) that you still did not change your mind about her and that the crying actually made your impression of her worse? A couple of questions–was the conversation at work? would you have felt the same way if a colleague cried over a personal matter at work?

  3. Larry Lewis says:

    I have to look at this from another perspective. I’m a Gym Owner, and frequently see tears of joy when one of my ladies achieves ‘losses’ at the end of a month. It in this case is wonderful to see, pouring of emotion, brought about by achievement. Mind you by P.A. cries alot, ends up with me buying her coffee and cake (shocking in a gym), seems to make her tears dry up. Just wonder if she’s sussed one of my weaknesses.

    • Nicolette James says:

      Hey Larry,
      I’m all for tears of joy! I also think we’d all cry more if someone always showed up with cake and coffee:)

  4. Mary says:


    Throughout this past school year, I found that working on my classroom management is something I need to embrace. While I definitely feel my classroom management skills strengthened as the year went on, I occasionally struggled with one particular class. Coincidentally, it was also my favorite class to teach – Broadcasting.

    Many of the students were highly motivated and excited about their work, but I found myself struggling to keep the class at a normal volume and functional; all seventeen students were allowed to use their iPods and had access to YouTube in order to complete projects. I was constantly running around the classroom trying to help the students who needed assistance editing their work while simultaneously trying to monitor others who minimized their editing screens to play games or watch inappropriate videos as soon as I turned around.

    After one particularly challenging class, my co-teacher (who really had the best intentions, but had been working with a small group of students in another room) expressed her frustration that I was not better facilitating the class in her absence. Unfortunately, this caused me to burst into tears right in front of her (and a small handful of students who walked into the classroom moments later).

    It was so incredibly embarrassing, and, at the time, I wasn’t even sure why I was crying. I was frustrated with the students who were goofing off for being disrespectful, I was angry with myself for not having solid classroom management, and I was hurt that my co-teacher was telling me I wasn’t doing a good job. I’m also the type who struggles tremendously with composing herself once the crying begins. Not fun.

    Along with classroom management, holding back tears is something that I really need to work on. Deep breathing usually really helps me, as does walking away as quickly as possible! I definitely don’t want to be pitied or seen as annoying, but choosing the right time to be emotional is a challenge for me.


    • Nicolette James says:

      I can certainly relate to this story as I have had my own moments of embarrassment and humiliation in various work environments. I definitely want to make a distinction between the “this just happened for the first time and I spontaneously burst into tears” and the “every time someone says something that hurts my feelings I burst into tears” individual. There is a huge difference. There is also a huge difference between the person who cries because they have become known as the office “crier” and the person who cries because something emotional has happened. Does that make sense? This issue really does speak to me because I can cry easily (given the “right” circumstances) so I know how hard it can be at times to hold back the tears when it would be easier to let them fall.

      I was discussing this with a friend the other day and she says that she thinks in today’s workplace it is much more acceptable to cry because more women are in leadership positions. However, I still disagree. I think it isn’t really about that. I think if the environment is one where personal feelings are communicated and shared and you work with a small group of people, it may be less unprofessional (or not interpreted as unprofessional) to cry than if you work in a very “corporate” environment. I can and would cry in front of my department because we work very closely together, know each other as colleagues and friends and aren’t afraid to be our true selves–tears and all. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable crying in front of my principal or another chairperson. It just unfortunately and unfairly leads to people questioning your competence. For this reason, I think any display of strong emotions on the job is just not cool.