I started crying in a stall in the women’s bathroom. I’d gone in with the intention to just pee and get back out there but I found myself suddenly crying in the stall, tears slowing making their way down my face.
I wasn’t wailing or stamping my feet like a toddler, but I was crying and I was at work. It was happening. I was crying at work.
Crying at work usually divides people into two categories — those that think it’s ok to do and those who believe that you should never do it, not ever. There are countless articles written about the pros and cons of crying at work and how to handle it if it happens to you or if a coworker starts crying at work.
One study from April 2018 shows that on the positive side, 45% of workers admit to crying at work and around 44% of CFOs think there’s nothing wrong with the occasional cry. On the other hand, about 32% of workers say that crying is never OK at work, and 26% of CFOs agree that crying is a bad thing and should be avoided.
Those data points show me that a majority of coworkers and managers don’t think that crying (at least every so often) is a bad thing but there’s still a large group of people that don’t agree.
Now back to me in the bathroom stall. I wasn’t crying in front of my boss or my coworkers, I was crying alone. And maybe it was because I had the comfort of that privacy that as I fought the shame of crying, I also wondered why am I crying? And can this actually be a good thing?
Why was I crying? You could say it was the combination of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed at the same time. Or maybe there was more to it.
I was crying because I wanted more from myself and the rest of my team. We were experiencing the normal bumps and hiccups of any event, especially one that lasts more than a week. The days were long and we were hitting our energy slump that seems to creep in the middle of any long-term project.
I was crying because I was dealing with a new challenge as a manager: leading a large team, mainly communicating in my non-native language, and working for a client who seemed to always want more. Each challenge nudged me a little more outside of my comfort zone and I was feeling the pressure.
I wasn’t happy that I was crying. Society has taught us that as women, we don’t want to be that woman in the office that cries and that emotional outbursts have no place in the workplace unless you want to look weak. All of that was running through my head as I tried to pull myself together. I jokingly had the thought that Beyonce probably never cries over her work.
But then my inner optimist chimed in with a new perspective that made me pause: Am I crying because I care? And if I care about what I’m doing, isn’t that a good thing?
Thinking about crying in that light suddenly made me really happy. I mean I was over-caffeinated and under-rested but all of a sudden my tears felt like an indicator that it all would be worth it.
I do my best work when I’m doing something that I get excited about. And even though I was feeling the exact opposite of excitement at that moment, I felt like crying was just the equal and opposite reaction to feeling on top of the world when a project when well.
You have to take the highs with the lows, and I was in a rough patch and so I was crying.
Now not everyone has found that crying can be cathartic, especially if you’re female. In Anne Kreamer’s book It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, she says, “In spite of the cathartic physiological benefits, women who cry at work feel rotten afterward, as if they’ve failed a feminism test.[Women] feel worse after crying at work, while men feel better.”
She’s not talking about all women, but overall why is that? Why do men get to feel better while we feel worse?
Could it be because they just don’t feel the same social pressure against crying at work that women do? Or because they’re seeing this positive side to the emotional outburst?
Crying for some people can act as an emotional gauge, a new metric that you can use to evaluate your work and career:
- Are you doing something worth crying over?
- Would you cry if you lost this specific job? Or would you be relieved?
You don’t have to actually cry over all those things as I know some people just aren’t criers. But if you answered “no” to both of those questions, you might want to think about making a move or at least a change at work.
You don’t have to cry at work to cry about work. I’m firmly in the camp that crying makes you feel a lot better in the long run but everyone is different. We all have different motivations and different ways to recharge and get back out there.
There’s no doubt that crying makes you feel better, on a biological level, but it might not make you feel better in the long run if you’re crying about work and then doing nothing to change your situation.
For me, crying was an emotional release that let me know I was doing something right, no matter how tired I was. And knowing that I was doing something right, helped motivate me to make the most of the rest of the event (and gave me the idea for this post).
If you find yourself crying a lot at or about work, then something might need to change. Whether it’s the job, the team, the industry, or your personal approach to work, something isn’t working and your body is trying to tell your brain that. Don’t be afraid to listen.
If you’re someone who is driven by their passion for their work, try to surround yourself with other people who are excited about what they do. It doesn’t have to be at your company or in your industry, but finding other people who are similarly motivated can help you process moments where you feel your passion falter or fizzle out. These are the people you can turn to the next time you’re crying about work (or even crying at work).
I can’t tell you if I cried in the bathroom because I wanted to hide my crying moment or if it was just a reaction to having a moment to myself. I don’t think that crying in public makes you seem weak or incompetent but there are people out there who do. But it doesn’t always matter what other people think. If you can cry and see that as a motivator to change your situation or press through a rough time, by all means, let the tears fall and don’t let anyone tell you different.