Why we should cry more at work
and stop apologizing for it.
I work at a university that is primarily for women, and in the past two weeks I’ve heard three strong, capable, professional, female faculty members not only apologize for crying at work, but express worry over not wanting to fall into that “tearful woman” stereotype. One of those women was me.
Sometimes I cry. I can’t predict it, yet ironically the only way I know to prevent it is to take a “mental health” sick day from work when I feel that I might have a particularly emotional day. Women’s hormones fluctuate as our bodies cycle each month. The change in the amount of estrogen and progesterone in our bodies affects our serotonin levels. This isn’t an excuse; it’s chemistry. Most of us don’t cry on purpose, we don’t cry to manipulate others, and we don’t want to be seen as weak for crying.
Being emotional can be part of our identities as capable, brave, strong women. We get shit done, and sometimes we cry in the process. We can’t separate it from who we are, and we can’t turn it off when we’re at work. In fact, if we do cry at work, the people who work with us should be glad because we tend to only cry about things we care about. In other words, if you’re my boss, and I’m crying over some aspect of my job, that means that I care so much about what I do that I am having a conflict over it that I cannot in this moment express in any way other than tears.
Let’s open the door for all emotion. As long as it doesn’t lead to an action that could cause harm to anyone, we have nothing to fear from expressing feeling. In terms of creativity, recognizing our feelings is essential. Being in touch with what we’re feeling can lead to good ideas at work as well as an increased sensitivity to the experiences and needs of others.
In fact, I think men should start crying at work, too. I want to work with people who are so authentic that sometimes crying happens. In the society we live in, it may feel uncomfortable to even just picture a man crying, especially at work. But if I walked into my boss’s office and he was crying because he felt like his ideas weren’t valued, I would listen and offer to help take action.
Expressing emotion at work can help our work relationships. If we’re honest with ourselves and each other and authentically express our sadness, fear, ambivalence, or nervousness, it might help us understand each other’s needs and motivations more quickly so we can work together to accomplish tasks.
There’s also the obvious fact that people are social animals. No matter how much of an introvert or misanthrope you might think you are, it’s in your DNA to crave the company of others. If we get our social needs met at work, where we we spend about a third of our waking lives each week, we’ll be happier. And those of us who serve others in our work find it easier to make others happier when we’re happy.
It’s time for women and men stop trying to compartmentalize who we are in the workplace or in academia. Crying does not make us weak or make our contributions less valid. It’s time we bare our identities, whether it be crying at work, wearing blue hair, or exposing our wonder woman tattoos.