How to Cry at Work

The first place I feel it is in the back of my nose. That’s when I know I’m about to cry. Usually there are one or two tears at that point. If I can rein it in before the tension builds up in the back of my jaw I’m usually fine. If not, there I am: crying in public.

In the last week, I cried (at least) at the following times:

+When I found out Whitney Houston had died
+While watching “The Vow” in theaters
+While watching the trailer for Titanic in 3D during the previews before “The Vow”
+When “Someone Like You” came on the radio on Valentine’s Day
+When “Riding Solo” came on the radio on Valentine’s Day
+When I tried to start my financial aid forms
+When I got rejected from Iowa University (even though I don’t want to go there)
+When I missed yoga

So yeah. I’m a crier.

THIS IS ME.

The absolute worst place to cry is at work. I can tell you from experience, it’s completely embarrassing. There you are in the bathroom talking yourself down trying not to cry (which always makes it even harder) and wondering if anyone will notice that your eyes are bloodshot. It’s basically the worst ever. Western society demands emotional restraint in public. Those who cry at work are often perceived as being overly-emotional and lacking in self control. Often criers get pegged as vulnerable or incompetent. Women in particular are relentlessly encouraged to unlearn teary reactions and do everything in their power to avoid crying. Much like baseball, there’s no crying in business.

Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti-9-to-5 Guide, gave Jezebel the inside scoop on the wheres whens and whys of crying at work. I have to admit, I get secret joy from the admission that everyone cries at work. Finally, at least, someone is getting real about how to best cover it up. Goodman’s rules about crying at work:

+Get Out. Go out for lunch, take a walk around the block or hide out in your office. Just get away from everyone else
+Make an excuse. Goodman suggests taking a fake phone call. I’m a big fan of pretending my contact fell out.
+Compose yourself. I’ve always been a victim of red eyes, but I hear thinking about regular everyday things like doing laundry or the Queen works well for putting yourself back together.
+Offer a short explanation. Not a short explanation like, “Sorry, I’m just so tired.” More like, “Obviously, I have strong feelings on the issue.”
+Do a great job and move on. You can cry over constructive criticism as long as you take that criticism and rock at your job.
+Don’t do it a lot. If you’re routinely crying at work, something else is probably going on. Either you need to take a serious look at the issues in your personal life or consider changing employers.

THIS KITTEN DOESN'T CRY TEARS OR HAVE A JOB. LUCKY.

Though you are, mostly, expected to be an emotionless robot, Goodman explains some of the times when it’s acceptable to let the cracks show. So there’s no crying in baseball… except when your team wins the world series! People tend to be more comfortable with the occasional tears of joy. “You can still pull off tearing up in a professional setting if you’re giving a speech, presentation or toast about a project or team that’s near and dear to your heart,” says Goodman, “especially in a mission-based organization or with a program that serves a greater social good.” Additionally no one expects you to stay stoic upon hearing tragic personal news. No one expects you to keep in together in the face of accident, illness or death. The funny thing is, this is just like the difference between crying during a movie while sitting with a friend, and crying during a fight with that same friend.

Still, what’s often seemed odd to me is that we are expected to wholeheartedly throw ourselves into our work, yet express no reaction when such work is not going well. We’re expected to pretend that our jobs are our highest priority, but that accidentally blowing thousands of dollars, losing big clients, dealing with assholes, being repeatedly told we’re doing something wrong or spilling our third latte in a row doesn’t bother us one bit. If someone is expected to stare stoney faced while being yelled at, does that mean they’re employed merely as a punching bag? Why must we be judged by an involuntary reaction of the sympathetic nervous system?

Unfortunately I can’t change the rules of social stigma. I suppose, because I’d rather not work a phone job the rest of my life, I might as well get used to suppressing my inner crier.

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Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 267 articles for us.

59 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    Lizz, we are clearly kindred spirits–I cry all the time, too.
    I cried when I got fired from my last job, and then they made me hang out in the office, crying, for a half an hour while they put together my last paycheck. It was humiliating.

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    I am also a hair-trigger crier. I feel like it’s more physiological than emotional – obviously, emotion is a trigger, but when I get that lump in the back of my throat it’s nearly impossible for me to push it back.

    It’s frustrating for me both in my professional and my personal life – my other half’s the exact opposite, and sometimes I think she interprets my tears as an attempt to manipulate. (Believe me, they are not.)

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    I do the phonecall thing a lot. Thankfully my eyes don’t get that bloodshot, they just change colour which is less obvious. (found out from experience) I also have sunglasses with me and go for a walk.

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        Then you steal a car.

        And, hey, that should give you a nice little pick me up. You just stole a car. Most people will never do that, but you just did. That should give you plenty of good positive achievement feelings right up until the cops get there to arrest you. Now you can start crying again because it is perfectly acceptable to cry when being arrested. The police will even put you in the back of one of their cars so you can cry in peace. Sometimes problems just solve themselves.

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    This article is pretty timely considering how I actually left work early today after crying over the death of a family member. Normally, I just go outside and hide for a bit while composing myself, but the news hit me like a ton of bricks, so it was inevitable.

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    Urgh, this is all quite true. The best solution for me is to walk it off – walk until basically I don’t feel the lump in my throat any more. (To be fair, I’ll cry at anything. Adverts even make me cry, it’s ridiculous.)

    I’ve an awful fear of crying in a work situation – made even worse by the fact that I’m typically the only woman in a group of men, so I *really* do not want to show weakness (or at least what they may perceive as weakness).

    The fake phonecall is a great one too – it means you can have an excuse for rapidly standing up and walking out the door without saying anything!

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    One of the reasons I get extra-stressed is because, as a waitress in a small, busy restaurant, you just can’t hide in a cubicle or take a walk. Even bathroom-composure-time is limited to a minute or two, which just adds to the pressure…

    This is so weirdly relevant to today… thank you!
    The “thinking about regular everyday things like doing laundry” is new to me and will catalogued for future use!

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    OMG, I was just doing this today. It wasn’t due to criticism, but the situation was still pretty awful. I hate crying in public especially in front of co-workers (even more so in front of my boss, who I definitely do not want to see me crying or in any way upset). I think the only thing that is going to prevent this from happening again though is to change jobs, which I’m going to have to do soon anyway. Going to the restroom and locking myself in a stall for a few minutes helped too. So did talking to my mom at lunch time.

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    this is very relevant to my life. except that i’m unemployed right now. but i’m sure if i had a job, i would print out this article and keep it somewhere close by for quick reference. i’ve cried at every job i’ve had. and at school. and i hate it.

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    I cry like all the time too. When I’m sad, angry or extremely happy. And super stressed. Freaking med school. Luckily the last time I cried full out was when I came out to my mom for realies. “No really Mom. Fully expect me to end up with a lady for the rest of my life. This is not a phase like you thought when I told you in high school.” This all happened last Sunday. I always cry on Sunday it seems.

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    I don’t really cry at emotion or stress. I actually don’t think I’ve cried for emotional reasons since my parents left me at college for the first time freshman year. Instead I cry at physical shock, not even pain so much. This was a problem when I was working at a sports camp and would have kids run me into the gym floor on a regular basis. Well the main problem was that I was working at a sports camp, but the secondary problem was the moment I took that glorious moment of flight into hardwood to bruise YET ANOTHER appendage the tears would start. My campers got a bit too used to seeing a bawling chick barking orders like a drill sargent while hiccuping intermittently. And I am NOT a pretty crier.

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    I cry when I’m angry. Like, in the middle of a fight, I only have inappopriate reactions I cry or I laugh, when I would like to insult people instead. Which is totally not good because people tend not to take your authority seriously if you cry when you should yell at them. At least crying in front of a professor still beats yelling insults at them.

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    I cry at school all the time. I did cry at work once though, because my mom was being a bitch about my chronic illness (she has license though, her CI is way worse. but only sort of.) in front of my coworkers. Embarassingly enough, it was my first time meeting these particular coworkers. Oh well, graduating soon enough anyway. Time for a fresh start at a theatre school- the most appropriate sort of school for some one with my level of emotional stability!

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    I was recently diagnosed with clinical depression… needless to say, I’ve been sort of a wreck lately. Around the time I was diagnosed (right before I decided to go into therapy) I cried at work a lot! My co-workers were good about it though, and took me out for a drink one day. Luckily people have been supportive.

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    how to cry at work…do it in the bathroom. i hate crying in front of people in general but at work is a huge no-no. there have been a few jobs that have brought me to tears in terms of stress, but i’ve always just tried to make it to the bathroom or at least everyone’s sight before i unleashed the tears.

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    My “unsanctioned” crying is when I get extremely angry or frustrated – voice cracks, tears fall, the whole nine yards. I work in a predominantly male industry and if an emotion is expressed it’s not uncommon for peers to tell anyone to not be such a girl or to man up.

    If it does happen, I say “dammit, I always cry when I get this angry/frustrated” and that seems to buy me enough room to be human without having that humanity perceived as a professional weakness.

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    Maybe you guys can offer me some advice then: what in the world do I do with crying coworkers/acquaintances? I can usually handle it if they’re close friends/family, but if they’re people I don’t know really well, it freaks me out a lot. Maybe it’s because I cry about once every few years, so I always figure it has to be because of something REALLY serious, but I have no idea how to deal with crying adults.

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    Last semester, I was having a conference with one of my favorite professors in which she was giving me constructive criticism on my major paper. I had fucked up the computer and couldn’t print out another draft like I was supposed to, I had missed the bus and ran the way there, and deep down I knew the paper wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
    The paper was about the gay marriage bill in NY, and I had included some of my own gay stuff as a way to keep it personal and interesting, but it came off as me hiding my sexuality and she kept saying “I feel like you’re afraid to talk about yourself” and then I just started crying and I couldn’t pull it together. So we just continued the conference while I scrubbed at my eyes and tried to surreptitiously wipe my running nose with my sleeve. Not my brightest moment.

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    I have 40 hours to write a 5,000 word conclusion for my thesis, plus magically turn what is essentially a first draft into a shiny piece of brilliance… I’ve just printed this off, crossed out ‘work’, written ‘Uni’ next to it and attached it to the wall above my desk. I have no time to cry so could definitely use the advice on how not to ;)

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    I cry so freaking much! and people always say they’re surprised at how emotional I am because I’m a lesbian and am supposed to be all tough and what not.. and then I get emotional about that :’(

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    I am, generally speaking, not a crier at all (even as a little kid). But accepting criticism is really hard for me, and I tend to choke up and tear up. Luckily, my boss now knows this, and she has allowed as how we can have ongoing conversations about the stuff I’m working on via email! This means I can choke up at my desk all by my little lonesome, and not sitting in her office.

    On the other hand, my wife is a crier. When she gets stressed or overwhelmed, there’s really nothing for it but to let her cry it out, and then she’ll feel tons better. We’ve learned, over the years, that there’s not much point in trying to problem-solve until she’s actually done crying. However, sometimes she needs to be made to sit down and lean on me and cry. She tries to hold it in, and it doesn’t work and just makes her a miserable human thing.

    Feelings…

  21. Thumb up 0

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    It’s a three step process for me:

    1. Cry about all the feelings. (This step is vastly improved when you have a friend rubbing your back while you cry.)
    2. Get bitter and sarcastic and rant a lot about all the feelings. (This step is vastly improved when back-rub friend can’t stop laughing and tells you to turn your rant into a stand-up bit.)
    3. Get in the car with laughing back-rub friend, turn on the radio, and sing every song at the top of your lungs, replacing all actual lyrics with the word “FEELINGS” repeated over and over. (This step is already the pinnacle and cannot be improved upon.)

    (3a. Agree with laughing back-rub friend that in Season 1 of “The L Word”, when Shane says to Lacey, “Honey, you have a lot of feelings”, she was actually talking to you.)

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    Hi everybody, my name is ephemeradical and I’m a crier…

    Getting out usually works for me. The only trouble is when it’s not just a strong emotional reaction to something, but I’m generally feeling down as well: then I get upset about the fact that I’m crying, and just cry a whole lot more! Vicious-cycle style.

    Hugs to all the criers here.

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    I have to say, I am NOT a crier. I avoid it like the plague and will probably implode someday as a result. But, having said that, one day I did cry at work at one of my previous waitressing jobs. My boss was kind of bipolar and this was a very manic day so she really laid into me for something that really shouldn’t have been that big of a deal and certainly didn’t warrant the harsh words that she gave me.

    So, I had taken A LOT of shit from this woman, and on this day when I broke down and had to smoke three consecutive cigarettes just to be OKAY and had to have other people take care of my tables for a solid half an hour… Well, something changed for my boss and I think on that day, her heart grew three sizes. After that, she actually respected me a bit more and almost treated me like a human being instead of a punching bag. This was also the first and last time that I ever received an apology from her.

    So, I guess, even though I hated every moment of it, crying at work can have its upsides too. Btw, my undoing is ALWAYS when someone asks, “Are you okay?” or “What’s wrong?”

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      My undoing is the same. My boss is a sadist bitch though. She is completely oblivious to all human emotions and wants to hump numbers. She doesn’t get me and doesn’t pretend that she wants to. She turned on me about 3-4 months ago and threw me under the bus after my supervisor quit. We have lost 2 people to quitting and 2 to termination in the lat 8 months. I am beginning to understand why now, and it’s hard as hell to get out.

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    I’m not a crier. Though I have rather severe depression and anxiety, it’s been a very, very long time since I cried in public. I think it comes from a life time of Catholic repression. Even if I were to cry in public, I don’t think I’d have any gravitas at all, as I’m still just a teenage girl and people just assume that I do cry all the time and who gives a shit if she’s crying, some boy probably snubbed her or she’s in some pathetic fight with her friends. If a boy cries, it’s assumed that a family member died or their mother has terminal cancer. The only times I’ve gotten bleary-eyed in public I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, who died when my dad was a child but I’ve come to know and love him through letters and records. As if I’d get any sympathy, though.

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    I’ve been crying at work a lot lately – my job is going terribly. I am working a finance field with a liberal arts background. Where I live the jobs just aren’t there. I have been forced to work in this industry, but one thing I have found is that I am very good at the customer service industry. I found another skill to capitalize off of. I guess you could say I want a phone job…at least for a little while. I’ve thought about going into Real Estate like my mother has with these skills – I am going for interviews hopefully soon for other jobs in another state. I’m going to have to start over for the 3rd time in 3 years if I get canned or quit.

    I cried the other day talking to a fellow city employee – and I was surprised at how accepting and kind she was. She was irritated with our section’s ridiculous new policies. She couldn’t keep up either. I think sometimes you have to find and reach out to someone. Once I understood no matter what I did I was screwed, I started to simply focus on what I could do, what I knew how to do. I’ll probably get canned in the next week or so or quit. I’m hoping I can quit before that happens. All I know is that I need to make myself happy, I’ve put on ten pounds from depression, and cried myself silly for days. I used to be happy, active, athletic, and vital. Now I am pushing overweight and heading downward to suicidal depression. I have to come up with something – crying and smoking a cigarette (I used to smoke about a year ago) is getting me through this.

    I do not know where the road will take me next, but all I know is that right now, this is a struggle. I feel sick everyday, cry on Sunday before I go to work, and sometimes cry behind a closed door in my office. I pick acne on my face I’m so stressed and dream of being somewhere else when I am at work. I work like a dog four hours straight, take a five minute bathroom break, and then lunch. I then work another four hour break. My work is still not perfect. But in a job where your work has to be 100% every month, you weren’t trained, you have been trying to train yourself, and your boss refuses to answers questions – you have done all you can and have to accept you are screwed. Just have to keep praying something will happen…soon.

    I have interviews this week, the stipulation of me being able to take a vacation day was all my work was submitted on time. I have one file left. I’m praying the outside source will get it back because I have already bought plane tickets and reserved my room. Next time I’m going to just fake sick. That’s if there is a next time :)

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