The Benefits of Crying at Work
Tears often accompany an earnest show of emotion. It feels risky but is really very healthy.
Children do it. Adults do it. Even the President of the United States does it.
President Barack Obama wiped his weepy eyes as he lovingly addressed his wife Michelle in his emotional farewell address in Chicago recently.
Joe Biden burst into tears as President Obama awarded him with the nation’s highest civilian honor during a surprise ceremony last Tuesday. Biden turned his back to cameras and those in the crowd to wipe away tears of happiness seconds after Obama bestowed the vice president with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
At one time or another, we all have had a bad day at work or have received some emotional news and cried about it. Both women and men cry when feeling happy, frustrated, sad, angry or helpless in a situation. Crying is a natural part of life. And although some people frown upon it in work situations, it can, and most likely will happen. And that’s okay.
Here are some benefits to crying at work, or anywhere else.
Crying alleviates anxiety.
It’s been said that anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems and crying is a common and useful response to dealing with it. However, when a situation becomes tense and emotions flare, most of us would rather get angry rather than cry in public. When you feel yourself on the brink of tears, excuse yourself and “take five.” Or table the discussion for a later time. Simply ask for some time to pull yourself together. If you work in a traditional office environment, retreat to a private area -- your office, the bathroom, or even your car. Let yourself release that pent-up emotion, then return to work without mentioning it. It’s best not to apologize for your tears. When you start apologizing, it makes everyone uncomfortable. Try to move forward the best you can.
Crying can build camaraderie.
While no expert would recommend crying as a strategy for career success, tears can be a means for communicating and showing empathy. People tend to connect with what they view as an authentic display of emotion. Often, crying invokes in co-workers and employees a natural empathy and a desire to help. One time a colleague started telling me about how her bi-polar son had tried to end his life. The memory was obviously still raw as I could clearly see the emotion on her face as her eyes started to well up with tears. When I saw her getting upset, I felt myself getting choked up too. This brief, but intimate, conversation connected us and brought us closer.
Crying can happen at any hour of the day.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she believes it’s okay to cry at work. “Crying happens," says Sandburg. "Emotions, after all, were developed as survival mechanisms; they’re hardwired into our biology. Rather than spending time beating ourselves up for crying, we should accept the act as a part of what it means to be a human, emotional being who, by the way, doesn’t shut off at 9 a.m. when the clock starts.” I agree. If something or someone makes you cry at work, do not feel as if you are weak or giving away your power. The key is to acknowledge the emotion or the circumstances, then, if you have to, take a break and get some fresh air and a drink of water.
Crying is not just a woman’s emotion.
Crying is simply an emotional reaction and most emotion at work stems from frustration, and not sadness. Research conducted by Anne Kreamer for her 2011 book, It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, found that men and women at all levels of management reported crying on the job: 41 percent of women and 9 percent of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year and that it had made no difference in terms of their success. If someone begins to cry in your presence, don’t get embarrassed or make a big deal of it. Allow the person some time to gather his or her thoughts and regain their composure. If you become uncomfortable, offer the person some privacy, and perhaps a tissue.
Crying can improve your health.
Tears are not necessarily a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength, courage and authenticity. According to Judith Orloff, MD, there are numerous health benefits of tears. They lubricate your eyes, remove irritants, reduce stress hormones, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes. Crying can make you feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart and combat stress and negativity.
Crying can boost productivity.
If something is bubbling beneath the surface, it helps to tap into your emotions and clear the air. Shedding some tears can relieve pent-up frustration that has been festering for a period of time. It’s not uncommon for friends and spouses to get closer when one person has the courage to reveal his or her feelings and emotions, which, in turn, can bring a problem to the forefront, initiate a productive conversation, and may help foster a stronger, more successful relationship.
So let go of the outmoded, misconceptions about crying. To stay healthy and release stress, go ahead and have a good cry.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).