It's My Job and I'll Cry If I Want to: The Case for Showing Emotions in the Workplace
Allowing workers to show their true selves has its benefits.
In a society that values strength, independence and self-reliance above all else, why express yourself? Why go out on a limb to reveal anything other than the highlight reel you post on social media in any situation, let alone in the setting where it could cost you the most: at work?
Related: How Crying Could Save Your Business
As it turns out, it could pay off in a big way.
Corporate robots are a dying breed.
In today's professional landscape, people want to bring their whole selves to work, even if doing so would break from the norms of "professionalism." Millennials want work-life integration, not just work-life balance, meaning they're not going to leave their emotions at home and send a cold, feeling-less, in-control-at-all-times automaton to the office in their place.
The insane precedent we've set for employees to remove so much of themselves from their professional lives is not only unhealthy for individuals; it's also costing their employers in huge ways, even cutting enormous chunks out of corporate bottom lines.
By creating a workplace that does not allow people to share who they are, employers are essentially ensuring widespread workforce disengagement and high turnover.
I have a (somewhat) radial recommendation to overcome this massive issue: Cry at work.
Related: The Benefits of Crying at Work
So, you want my employees to be crying -- in the office?
Yes and no. In a perfect world, your employees would be perfectly balanced in their workloads and satisfied in their roles. They would never feel overwhelmed or dejected, and the need for showing negative emotions in the office wouldn't exist.
We all know that's not the world we live in. With the insanely fast pace of business these days, it's likely that your team is going to feel frustration, anger, sadness and a whole host of other unpleasant emotions in the office.
I firmly believe that allowing, and even encouraging them to process these feelings outwardly is essential to having a successful business.
Here's a personal example so you can see that it's not as scary as it seems.
One experience during last year's holiday "break" led me to the brink of exhaustion. My team and I thought most people would be offline, but instead, our clients were in need of assistance, and I ended up picking up a heavy load because we hadn't planned accordingly. I was working until the late hours every night during a week I had planned to spend with my family, and I was frustrated. This was directly impacting my health, and I was putting my professional success in front of my own personal and physical health.
After the holiday, during our weekly check-in, I expressed this frustration with the entire team. I cried during this call, explaining that I had felt really alone and like I could not really depend on anyone. I empathized that I knew everyone worked so unbelievably hard and that we all needed this break, but ultimately we hadn't set ourselves up for success. We had to work harder and smarter so that we could truly take a well-deserved break and be present with our loved ones and ourselves.
The team responded immediately, and not only understood my perspective, but jumped into shape to do the work. In the end, we were able to satisfy our clients' needs and set aside a time of rest for all of us, including myself.
Sometimes tears are the most productive solution, because they show your humanity and rally your colleagues to support you.
OK, I get the picture; now what do I do?
There are so many strategies you can try to create an expressive, engaged workplace in which everyone can show how they really feel, but the ones I recommend starting with are:
1. Encourage expression.
Create an environment where people can openly share their emotions, whether that's an all-team happy hour when a new client is won, or encouraging employees to vent their frustration on a tough day. Sometimes, this even means encouraging crying in the office.
A 2001 study by Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steve B Wolff found that teams who score high on tests for emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ) perform markedly better than those who score poorly. "Our research shows that, just like individuals, the most effective teams are emotionally intelligent ones."
Related: How (and Why) I Make Grown Men Cry
And they aren't the only ones preaching the EQ gospel. Their findings have been replicated by hundreds of workplace and emotional researchers and published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals.
One of the most effective strategies that my company, CatalystCreativ, has used to help businesses create a more empathetic and expressive culture is teaching ways to foster traditionally "feminine" traits above more "masculine" ones. By valuing and expressing traits such as receptivity, surrender, vulnerability and tenderness, employees of all genders show higher rates of engagement and job satisfaction, and companies themselves perform better.
Think your male managers won't go for it? That would objectively be a bad choice. A 2011 study conducted at Stanford examined feminine and masculine traits in male and female employees, and compared these traits to their rates of promotion compared to their peers. The results were surprising: "Feminine" men got two times the promotions of their traditionally masculine peers.
Those workers able to blend feminine and masculine traits in the workplace tend to excel beyond their peers, and companies that encourage this expression among all employees will reap the financial rewards.
2. Reduce stress.
Although all workplaces today are somewhat stress-inducing, those that discourage emotional expression are particularly problematic.
By not crying and sharing emotions, employees are bottling in stress. I could site literally thousands of sources explaining that stress is horrible for health, and everyone is now aware of its awful effects, which extend to harming work productivity.
Professor Roger Baker, a clinical psychologist and professor at Bournemouth University in the U.K., claims that "crying is the transformation of distress into something tangible, and that the process itself helps to reduce the feeling of trauma." And he's not the only one who feels this way.
William Frey, a biochemist at St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, found that tears contain the stress hormones prolactin and adrenocorticotropic hormone, meaning that crying literally flushes stress-causing chemicals out of the body.
If you're still unconvinced about allowing, and even encouraging, your employees to cry in the workplace, consider this: Stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion per year, due to health care and missed work days alone. And while eliminating all stress is impossible, allowing employees to process and express it is the only way to reduce its negative effects on your business.
So, if you're reading this as an employee, go big. I encourage you to show up to work as your whole self every day. If you're an organizational leader, I hope you recognize the absolute necessity of creating a more open workplace for your employees. One in which they can celebrate, laugh, talk about their real selves and yes, even cry.