Oct 06, 2015

    How to deal with crying at work

    DO YOU remember the last time you teared up at work? What triggered the floodgates in your eyes? No doubt, crying at work is still labelled as unprofessional and weak by many people.

    So to have Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, publicly say that it was okay to cry at work is an acknowledgement that we can be human after all.

    People do not simply tear up for no reason. We do experience meltdowns in a highly competitive and stressful workplace environment. A case in point is The New York Times article Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas In A Bruising Workplace.

    More commonly, people tear up when their personal lives intersect with their professional lives. With current work trends, in which the lines between work and life are blurred, we might find it a challenge to separate the two.

    You may have experienced tearing up on these levels:


    We cry in private when it is something not necessarily related to work. How many of you teared up after reading about Robin Williams' death in August last year? I did.

    Our despair could also be work-related, but we do it in private because we believe that everything is under control. At that moment, we simply need to get what we are feeling off our chests.


    Oftentimes, we need a shoulder to cry on. However, a 2011 research headed by Lauren Bylsma of the University of Pittsburgh concluded that the person seeing you cry can make a difference in whether the crying helps or worsens your emotional state.

    Thus, it is vital to find a colleague who can provide you with an emotional anchor (a hug or listening ear) without being judgmental, and not someone who makes you more vulnerable after a crying episode.


    This is a rare occasion and it happens when news that affects the majority of the workplace is made known.

    An unexpected passing of an affable colleague or news of mass redundancy are just two examples of what could send waves of overwhelming emotion across the organisation.

    In those trying times, decision makers should consider bringing in professional grief or career counsellors to help employees cope.


    As empathetic leaders, do not be quick to draw conclusions if you inadvertently catch your employees crying, especially if no death or job loss is involved.

    Instead, give them room to gather their composure before approaching them privately to really listen to what may be causing their tears.

    An article in Britain's Independent featuring the science of tears summed it up best: "Tears are a positive representation of who we are. It demonstrates not only our deep emotional connections with our world - past, present and future - but allows us to visibly celebrate that fact."